On a 2:1 split vote, the County Commissioners deny conditional use permit for LDS meeting house.
What happened at the March 15th hearing?
Several months ago, Blackfoot Farms LLC submitted an application for Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for an LDS Meeting House at 7000S and also a height variance application for a 70-foot steeple. The public wrote comments in response to these materials, and at the February 14th hearing before P&Z, the applicant submitted new materials such as revised lighting and landscaping plans. These were not submitted into the record, but presented orally. At this hearing, P&Z recommended further changes to the application including lighting, traffic, and landscaping mitigations. P&Z tabled their deliberation on the height variance.
Then, about two weeks ago, Blackfoot Farms withdrew their application for the height variance because the County P&Z was holding a workshop to consider amending the county’s height regulations. (Moreover, the County Planning staff and County Attorney Kathy Spitzer had recommended the height variance be denied because it did not satisfy the statutory criteria.) Although the height variance for the church steeple had been withdrawn, the Board of County Commissioners still had the jurisdictional authority to make the final decision on the CUP for the Meeting House -which proceeded ahead to the March 15th public hearing.
Confusion and unresolved issues with traffic impacts……
Prior to this March 15th public hearing, the County Engineer Jay Mazalewski had required the applicant to address traffic concerns raised by the public regarding 6000S, 1000W and 500W. The applicant did not submit the requested studies, but their engineer Arnold Woolstenhulme offered a rebuttal as to why. He had completed a primary inspection of these roads, and determined that they were in such poor condition, a traffic study would conclude that significant, and extensive improvements were needed. He then polled the LDS congregation as to how many people were likely to drive on these roads, and concluded it was a small number, less than 20 families. However, he did caution that there was no way to guarantee these driving patterns. In light of this response, the County Engineer advised that these traffic studies should be completed prior to any permit approval, and there may be opportunities for some cost sharing of road improvements with the County.
Both Rinaldi and Benedict were also especially focused on the ancillary uses of the Meeting House, and the additional traffic impacts these uses would generate – which did not seem to be addressed in the initial traffic study. Rinaldi also questioned the County Engineer as to the cost of maintaining 6000S, 7000S, 1000W, and 500W since the applicant would theoretically pay to improve these roads, but the county would pay for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Commissioner Benedict then questioned the County Planner Curt Moore as to why the question of who would pay for the required improvements to Highway 33 remained unresolved.
Chairman Rinaldi then questioned the applicant on alternative transportation availability, such as the bike path which had been recommended by the Planning & Zoning Commission. The applicant responded that they were not totally opposed to the bike path, but had not consented to it either since the property over which the path would cross was owned by Blackfoot Farms, and the church was under contract to purchase the5.5-acre meeting house site from Blackfoot.
Victor weighs in…….
One other unresolved issue had been what Victor's position was on this particular application. At hearing, Victor Planner Bill Knight read a letter into the record that was submitted on behalf of Victor Mayor Zack Smith. The letter stated that if the applicant wanted to relocated within the city’s boundaries, Victor would welcome the church into town. Churches were an allowed use in almost all of Victor’s zoning districts, and the City offered to consider amending their height regulations to allow for a steeple in town.
Chairman Rinaldi inquired whether Victor had any intentions of annexing the church if it were approved at 7000S. Bill Knight explained that the city is focusing on infill right now. It would take years if not decades before there would be substantial infill to warrant annexing properties out to 7000S, particularly since the area between the City and 7000S remains mostly un-platted and undeveloped.
The public weighs in…..
The crowd in attendance at the hearing was smaller than last month, roughly 100 members of the community were there. Four designated public speakers testified on behalf of the LDS Church, expressing their support for the application. They commented that the location was ideal as a half-way point for the congregation. Two or three people spoke neutrally on the application citing location concerns. About a dozen spoke in opposition to the application, primarily citing location and impacts to public services. Unfortunately, the audience was not as polite and reserved this time around. Chairman Rinaldi had to quiet down the audience several times and discourage shouting, and other intimidating group behaviors.
And VARD offers comments…..
VARD spoke in opposition to the application, primarily voicing procedural concerns on the lack of updated application materials available for the public to comment on. Traffic, lighting, and visual impacts have all been the focus of public concern with this application, thus it was critical that the Board allow the public to view and public on what was now up for final approvals. All of the application materials available to comment were out of date, and thus irrelevant what was currently being proposed to the Board. Since this is a facility that is designed to last 100 years, access to public process regarding citing and impacts is critical.
VARD also did comment that the County Planner Curt Moore’s administrative report heavily based its recommendations on the fact that the proposed site was within the Victor Impact Area. However the site was actually located beyond the Victor Growth Boundary, which is supposed to serve as the finite limit for expansion of growth and services.
The logic behind the Commissioners' deliberations.
Commissioner Kelly Park spoke first and recommended approval of the CUP. His statements were brief. He referenced the positive community benefits provided by religious buildings. Mr. Park did not see any concerns over traffic and lighting, as the proposed site was inside the Victor’s Impact Area.
Commissioners Kathy Rinaldi and Bob Benedict then evaluated the proposal based on the 4 criteria that must be satisfied in order to obtain a CUP:
Criteria #1: Location is compatible to other uses in the general neighborhood.
Both Commissioners felt that the location was not compatible, given the primarily agricultural and low-density residential nature of the parcel and surrounding properties.
Criteria #2: Use will not place undue burden on existing public services and facilities in the vicinity.
Seeing as how the applicant had not clarified who would pay for the necessary improvements to Highway 33, the additional traffic studies requested by the County Engineer were not submitted, and the applicant’s engineer opined that the additional sturdies would show that significant road work was needed – traffic impacts were a real sticking point.
Both Commissioners questioned the ability of an unpaved, dead-end road with a single outlet to handle traffic generated by Church services. They also expressed concern that the one traffic study that had been done did not address the full extent of the traffic impacts created by a facility that would be used for so many additional events such as weddings, youth events, and other community activities. They concluded that existing infrastructure could not support the development.
Criteria #3: Site is large enough to accommodate that proposed use and other features of this ordinance.
Both commissioners found that the site 5.5-acre was large enough to support the facility.
Criteria #4: Proposed use is in compliance with and supports the goals, policies, and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan
Both commissioners agreed determined that the proposed use was determined to be out of compliance with the existing Comprehensive Plan. Kathy Rinaldi cited text in the Comp Plan regarding focused growth in incorporated townships and minimal disruption of existing agricultural operations in the unincorporated county.
The commissioners then deliberated on whether it would be better to remand this application back to P&Z for additional studies, and clarification of the record – or just deny the application. Commissioner Benedict expressed frustration that so many of the updated application materials were missing from the public record, and the issue of the steeple variance (which the applicant had written was a necessity for their facility) was withdrawn and thus unresolved prior to final approvals. Benedict furthered that if this application had been for any other large, community oriented facility (like a recreation center or auditorium), there would have been more information for the public to review, and even potentially open houses and design charrettes. Benedict concluded that asking for additional work and studies would not remedy the problematic location for this facility, and thus he was opposed to the remand.
The Board then voted 2:1 to deny the permit, with Benedict and Rinaldi voting to deny the permit, and Park voting in opposition.
So what happens next?
The ball is in Blackfoot Farms’ court right now. They may choose to file for judicial review in District Court within 28 days of the hearing and challenge the County Commissioners’ decision to deny their permit. They may also opt to avoid the contention of the courtroom, and instead take Victor up on their offer to move this facility inside of the Victor City limits.
Want more information?
- Click here to view our webpage where you can get more background information on this application.
- Click here to view a sketch of the building, Blackfoot’s traffic study, stormwater plan, and other application materials.
- Click here to read our meeting report for the February 14th P&Z hearing on this application where P&Z recommended approval of this application on a 4:3 split vote with about 10 conditions of approval.