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Council reverses planning board on church expansion

       In a rare turnabout, City Council unanimously approved Jan. 27 a Westside land-use proposal that the Planning Commission had unanimously denied.
       The issue involves a zone change and development plan by Calvary Worship Center. Council's action, which overrules the commission, allows the church to move forward with a major expansion on its 5½ acre property off King and 30th streets.
       Convinced by residents' complaints, the commission consensus had been that the Calvary plan was too big for the neighborhood, especially in terms of traffic and parking. Its vote in October was 7-0 (two members absent).
       However, City Council saw the proposal differently after a 2 ½-hour hearing that (like Planning Commission) also took testimony from both sides. Several councilmembers praised Calvary for its previous upgrades to the site - which includes a one-time Safeway store - and the consensus was that the new project will be beneficial in terms of putting vacant land to productive use, stabilizing a hillside with historic sloughing issues, controlling hillside drainage and addressing the church's current problem in which dozens of church-goers park on neighboring streets. The council vote was 8-0 (one member absent).
       “If it wasn't for this church, the old Safeway building and the area around it would be an urban renewal site,” commented Councilmember Merv Bennett, who made the motion for reversal. Referring to the proposal as “classic infill,” he said “the church has been an incredible steward of the property and an incredible neighbor. It [the project] is going to resolve some significant issues.”
       Calvary has been at its location since 1998, initially converting the Safeway into a church, then building a new worship center beside it in 2007. The three-phase project, expected to need at least five years for completion, will include two building demolitions, two additions totalling about 70,000 square feet and an increase in the off-street parking from 302 to 446 spaces.
       After the council action, Calvary Pastor Al Pittman told the Westside Pioneer he was “pleased that they [councilmembers] voted the way they did after looking at the facts.”
       He predicted that Phase 1 construction (the new parking lot) would start this year.
       Pittman led off the church's presentation, telling council that Calvary is “a growing fellowship which desires to promote a sense of hope within our community and neighborhood to aid others in becoming productive residents in our society.”