News

Anti-church project forces rally

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Traffic still tops the list of public concerns with Christian Faith Center’s megachurch project in Federal Way, though noise and environmental impacts also made the cut at a community forum held at Belmor Park last week.

About 80 seniors gathered in the retirement community’s clubhouse to hear a brief overview of the project and voice opposition and concern about traffic congestion and environmental impacts.

Louise Koetters, who led the March 16 meeting, said people have been expressing their opposition to the project for some time but haven’t received much feedback from the city about timelines, the data used to generate traffic assumptions and noise.

“Many feel a number of philosophical and traffic concerns haven’t been addressed in the (environmental impact statement),” she said.

Juliette Sykes, who lives near the site of the proposed church, said she’s an opponent of the project, but warned others to stick with the facts rather than launch personal attacks against pastor Casey Treat or his religion.

Christian Faith Center owns a 50-acre parcel south of South 336th Street between Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway South. Church officials are planning two buildings at the site –– a 54,000-square-foot, 4,500-seat sanctuary with an associated 164,500 square feet of meeting space, a chapel, bookstore and office space; and a 81,323-square-foot school building they expect to expand to 101,526 square feet during a second phase of construction.

Plans also include 4.3 acres of play fields and 1,648 parking stalls.

Several who attended the Belmor Park meeting expressed concerns about traffic impacts to their neighborhood once the church is built. To mitigate traffic impacts, Christian Faith Center could pay for construction of a combination of speed humps, S-curves and a traffic circle on local streets.

City traffic engineers said the megachurch will account for about 20 percent of the traffic increases through the area over the next 15 years, but residents living in the area were skeptical about that number.

Koetters said the traffic analysis accounts only for peak Sunday services, when the majority of vehicles would be going to or from the church, but doesn’t account for traffic for other church and school groups’ activities and meetings that would “happen all day and night.”

She added the environmental impact statement (EIS) doesn’t address how traffic mitigation devices would affect the residents living in the neighborhood, nor does it address how much mitigation Christian Faith Center must provide if the project accounted for more than 20 percent of the traffic increases in the area.

In addition, Koetters said, noise issues are missing entirely from the EIS.

“You remove 50 acres of trees, that affects noise,” she said. “Those of us who live near the freeway know the difference between summer and winter when the trees are leafed out.”

Still, Tom Rolph, who lives adjacent to the site, said he’d rather see a megachurch there than a business park development, for which the area is currently zoned.

Rolph said traffic would be worse with semis leaving the freeway and driving through the neighborhood, and the streets would be worse for the wear. Rush hour would be a nightmare, he said, if everyone who worked in a business park clocked out and left at the same time.

He added he doesn’t think traffic to and through the megachurch site will be as bad as people expect. He said most people probably would leave I-5 at the State Route 18 interchange and loop back through several free right turns rather than try to navigate city traffic from South 320th.

Rolph said he’s not a member of Christian Faith Center and isn’t an advocate for the church, but if it’s approved, neighbors to the project should insist the city do all it can to protect and benefit them, like continuing sidewalks for pedestrian safety.

Dave McKenzie, who lives in the Twin Lakes neighborhood and has become active in city politics since a transitional home for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts was sited across the street from his house, said leaving the area open for business park development would make more sense because businesses would provide tax revenue, a key point now that city officials are faced with a $2 million budget gap.

Churches, on the other hand, are tax-exempt.

Some at the meeting wondered why Treat and the church would spending so much on environmental assessments without knowing whether the City Council will even approve the project. Some suspected the church is doing the work so if the council ultimately says no, officials can try to persuade the city by the amount they’ve spent and the work they’ve done.

Senior city planner Lori Michaelson, who is the city’s lead planner on the project, said officials can’t speak to why Treat makes the decisions he makes, but she said the city is applying the same level of process as it would any other private developer.

She said the city isn’t concerned with how much Christian Faith Center officials want to spend on studies before getting permits. “That’s not the city’s business,” she said.

Community development director Kathy McClung approved design components of the project March 20, but that approval only takes effect if the council approves the project.

City officials are tentatively planning to schedule a hearing on the environmentally sensitive areas on the site the third week of April. Christian Faith Center is proposing to fill parts of wetlands to accommodate construction, but plans to mitigate the filling by increasing wetland size in other areas.

The hearing examiner’s ruling on the hearing is subject to appeal, and the council won’t reconsider that decision unless an appeal is filed.

The issue will go before the council for a final decision after the hearing is finished, the hearing examiner has issued a decision and any appeals have been filed.

Christian Faith Center officials didn’t return calls to the Mirror, but the church Web site indicates they hope to begin construction by July.

Though city officials and church leaders have received e-mail and letters supporting the project, many in surrounding neighborhoods remain opposed. Several have suggested ongoing pressure on the City Council not to approve permitting for the project.

Barry Turnbull, who lives adjacent to the site, encouraged those gathered at Belmor Park to keep letting council members know how they feel.

“The more they hear from you, the more you’re going to get their attention,” he said to applause.

Opponent Irene Nevers handed out petitions and encouraged those attending to write letters, go to council meetings and let city officials know how they feel.

“We may be a little late, but we’ve got to act. We can’t let them ram this in. Our kids three generations from now will be paying for streets and street lights and police and fire service,” she said. “Why can’t they just leave it the hell alone?”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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