News

Megachurch project four years behind schedule

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

When Christian Faith Center first submitted its plan to build a church and school on almost 50 undeveloped acres in Federal Way, church officials were hoping to begin construction in 2000.

Now, it looks like construction won’t begin on the site until some time in 2004.

Last Monday, city officials told the Land-Use and Transportation Committee they are reviewing environmental information presented by the Christian Faith Center as part of the city’s preparation for an environmental impact statement (EIS).

They expect to complete a traffic study in May and the EIS in October, which will give church officials some steps to mitigate environmental impacts.

Community development officials for the city anticipate issuing building permits in January 2004, though that schedule is tentative, senior planner Lori Michaelson said.

The most difficult part of the project is the traffic analysis, community development director Kathy McClung said. With a 4,000-seat sanctuary and a college, Christian Faith Center’s proposed Federal Way campus is expected to bring in thousands of visitors a week.

Some people living near the site of the proposed megachurch — a designation referring to churches that seat more than 1,000 people and are located on more than 25 acres — reacted angrily when they learned of the project, citing concerns that traffic generated by churchgoers would prevent them from getting to and from their homes.

Others, though, supported construction of the church.

Christian Faith Center (CFC) officials express frustration at the time lag, but they’re not giving up on Federal Way yet.

“I guess you just decide you’re going to be positive,” said Debbie Willis, a member of CFC’s Elder Board. “We believe this is where we’re supposed to be. There’s nothing else we’ve been able to find that meets the needs as that property in Federal Way.

“Honestly, I’m not sure what the hold-up is. What else is there to study, my goodness. We care about fish and we care about trees and we care about the creek. We’ll do whatever they want us to do.”

CFC is proposing a three-phase project on a 47-acre site south of South 336th Street, north of South 341st Street between Pacific Highway South and Interstate 5 — an area currently zoned as business park.

Church planners are proposing to build a 218,500-square-foot church and 104,480-square-foot school on the property that will include a 4,000-seat sanctuary, a wedding chapel, a theater stage for plays and other performances, a youth church and gaming facility for teenagers, class and conference rooms, a coffee shop, a bookstore and administrative offices.

City officials said the project requires a lot of work because it’s so big.

“There are numerous building issues to resolve,” Michaelson told the Land-Use and Transportation Committee.

Just the environmental impact study would be a lot of work considering the size of the project, but officials are also reviewing design and architecture work.

“There’s just a million little details,” McClung said.

In 1999, the church submitted its plan to develop the 50 acres it owns. City code doesn’t allow churches to locate in business parks, so CFC sought a change to allow megachurches in such zones.

In 2000, the city finished a market analysis showing there wasn’t a shortage of business park land available in the city — which meant allowing CFC to build on 50 acres wouldn’t jeopardize availability for future business park developments — and in April 2001, the city’s Planning Commission approved a proposal to allow churches in business park zones.

That June, however, the Land-Use and Transportation Committee voted against the commission’s recommendation, citing concerns about traffic. The City Council agreed in July 2001.

In August 2001, the commission received a request from the church to rezone its property from business park to multi-family, where city code allows churches.

That November, the land-use committee directed city officials to draft a development agreement with CFC that would allow the project to proceed as long as traffic and environmental impacts were mitigated.

Despite the delay, CFC has tried to incorporate itself into the community, donating money to local charities and food to the food bank, Willis said. Members volunteer with local organizations, too, but some feel like they’re having a hard time being accepted into the city.

“We’ve worked very hard to become part of the fabric of Federal Way,” she said. “We’ve worked very hard to be a benefit to the community without a building. It’s like, you know, they just don’t want us.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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