Church appeals to City Council on 'unreasonable, erroneous' denial of expansion plan by appointed board

A drawing for the Calvary Worship Center submittal shows the three-phase plan for the proposed project.
Courtesy of Haddon Architecture; text edited for publication by Westside Pioneer
       Denied by the City Planning Commission, Calvary Worship Center is taking its proposal for a major expansion to City Council.
       Mike Schultz, the city planner assigned to the matter, said the church off King and 30th streets filed a formal appeal after the 6-0 commission vote in October.
       At that meeting, the commission members (who are appointed to their posts) sided with neighborhood opponents about potential intrusiveness and even geological hazards in the church's plan for two building demolitions along with two additions totaling about 70,000 square feet and the creation of about 150 new parking spaces.
       While complimenting Calvary for a “Herculean effort to make this fit,” commission member/meeting chair Robert Shonkwiler compared the expansion to “what I try to do every morning - fit into a pair of jeans that's too small.” He also cited the city's Comprehensive Plan, saying the proposal did not “meet the compatibility issue” in terms of neighborhoods.
       A date for council to hear the matter has not been determined. Schultz said it might not be until December.

The two Calvary Worship Center buildings are shown, with a portion of the parking lot in the foreground on the 5 1/2-acre site. At left is the newer facility that opened in 2007; at right is the converted, 1950s-era supermarket building that the church still uses. Calvary's expansion proposal would demolish the older structure, add onto the more recent building and construct a new worship center about where the old one is now. Also, about 150 parking spaces would be added on 3 acres the church owns east of the currently used property. A smaller, third building on the property (not shown but west of the buildings above) would also be torn down to make room for added parking.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The six-page appeal, signed by Calvary Senior Pastor Al Pittman, alleges that the Planning Commission decision was “unreasonable… erroneous and based on misleading, irrelevant and factually inaccurate data and assumptions.”
       Included under the appeal's “specific areas of concern” is the assertion that the commission's action reflects “disparate treatment of the church based on its proposed religious uses of the property.”
       Church officials declined an interview request with the Westside Pioneer after the commmission meeting, but Schultz said he spoke with the applicant when the appeal was filed. He elaborated that even if the appeal fails at council, the action fulfills a necessary due-diligence step “if they [the church] wanted to file a civil case.”
       He noted that a previous court case in Boulder County involved the denial of a church expansion. “Some municipalities treat churches differently,” Schultz said.
       Calvary has been at its location since 1998, initially converting an old supermarket into a church facility, then building a new worship center in 2007. The new plan, driven by a fast-growing congregation, consists of building and parking work on the currently developed 5½ acres and adding parking east of there on 3 acres of vacant, church-owned land at the base of a hill in an older neighborhood north of Uintah Street. The project would include a new worship center, which, at 1,780 seats, would be over twice the size of the '07 facility.
       The main crunch of traffic and parking is on Sundays. Currently, this is felt by the neighborhood in terms of traffic at each of three services and people parking in front of houses on nearby King and Castle streets. Haddon explained to the commission that the expansion would reduce this impact because there would be only two services (allowable because of a larger worship center) and probably less on-street parking (because the new center would be located farther south on the property from King Street).
       Schultz had recommended approval to the Planning Commission. His written review describes the proposal as in keeping with city requirements, including - in contrast to comments by Shonkwiler (as well as fellow commission member Jeffrey Markewich) - the city's Comprehensive Plan. The review specifically states this opinion in terms of the plan's objectives for infill and redevelopment in neighborhood areas.
       The Calvary request to the city is for a zone change to make the entire church property planned unit development.
       Three neighbors argued against the proposal in terms of its overall size, its aesthetics and concerns that the parking lot might cause hillside slippage, that stormwater would get worse and that the expansion-related parking plan is insufficient.
       Pittman's appeal takes the Planning Commission to task on the main points its members raised, several of which mirrored those of the neighbors. The appeal lists seven points in all, charging that the commission failed to credit the church proposal for meeting all the city standards and that, in regard to the hillside issue, it showed “apparent reliance on factually irrelevant materials presented by opposition.”
       The final appeal point cites the federal Religious Land Use and Institution-alized Persons Act, which requires that a church “not be treated on less than equal terms” than other entities. The act is relevant, Pittman writes, because the proposal's rejection “will substantially burden its [Calvary's] religious exercise.”

Westside Pioneer article