Plan for huge church rankles some Heisson residents

Public hearing today; county planning staff recommends OK, with conditions

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
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Some neighbors in the rural area north of Battle Ground Lake are upset that a huge, new church building — the Heisson branch of the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church — has been proposed for their neighborhood. A public hearing is set for today.

The proposal is for a 35,923-square-foot church with a seating capacity of 1,030 in its sanctuary. The Heisson church would be on two parcels totaling 13.18 acres at 27200 N.E. 182nd Ave. A county planning staff report issued in early March says that the building is not intended to be a school, but will only be used for religious worship, religious meetings and conferences.

Letters from neighbors have raised "potential adverse traffic, safety, stormwater and erosion control impacts as well as environmental and archaeological concerns," the staff report says. At least one neighbor has objected that the R-5 zoning district is intended for large-acreage home sites, not non-residential uses such as a church.

In its report, county planning staff replied that a conditional use permit and site plan review approval are required for a big church in this zoning district. The report finds that the 347-space parking lot is more than adequate. Staff have recommended that the hearings examiner approve the proposal, with conditions.

One condition of approval is that evening activities generally be over by 10 p.m. and parking lot lights generally be off by 10:30 p.m. The development will be served by a septic system, not sewer, and will operate its own stormwater drainage facility on site.

"It's going to be a huge building that doesn't fit with the landscape, right out our back door," said John Plymale, who's lived across the street from the site for four years. He's not happy about the way asphalt has followed him to the countryside, he said -- but his real concern is safety on a scenic road that has no posted speed limits, no stop signs and a big hill.

"A lot of motorcycles and bikes come out for their joy rides on Sundays," he said. "I've personally witnessed two dogs get hit. You just cross your fingers."

Clark County planner Michael Uduk said the project has been assessed no development fees at all under the county's fee holiday ordinance, which encourages economic activity and employment. According to the staff report and other county documents, traffic-impact and other fees on this project could have reached approximately $40,000. Per federal law, churches and other nonprofits pay no property taxes.

The public hearing — which will consider several other cases as well — is set for 6 p.m. today at the Public Services Center, Board of County Commissioners Hearing Room, 1300 Franklin St., sixth floor. The hearings examiner's decision can be appealed for reconsideration; it can also be challenged in Superior Court.