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Christian Faith Center's environmental impacts weighed

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

A city hearing examiner heard testimony last Tuesday on the environmental impacts the proposed Christian Faith Center is expected to have on wetlands on its megachurch development site in Federal Way.

Still, according to city officials, the proposed mitigations could leave the site in better shape than it is now. They said a small wetland on-site isn’t doing much to filter water, and a new wetland area to be created will be healthier than the buffer being impacted.

Based on mitigations and eight additional, city-recommended items governing permanent protection of sensitive areas, city officials believe the project meets city code requirements.

In addition, five years of monitoring — with associated “tweaking” as needed — will “ensure the success of the mitigation area,” said city senior planner Lori Michaelson.

Christian Faith Center is planning to build a 218,000-square-foot church and a 104,000-square-foot school on 47 acres of wooded property located south of South 336th Street between Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway South. The site plans include ball fields and parking lots.

As part of the site development, Christian Faith Center plans to fill a wetland near the center of the property and compensate for that fill by creating new wetland area and buffer adjacent to another existing wetland on-site.

In addition, plans show the church would displace a portion of a third wetland buffer on-site for an access road from Pacific Highway and for street improvements along South 336th. Both would be mitigated by adding buffer to other portions of the wetlands that would remain undeveloped and barred to people and pets.

After reviewing Christian Faith Center’s application and the proposals to mitigate the impacts, city officials recommended approval of the permits to fill the small wetland and encroach on the other buffers. Now, it’s up to hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux to review the record and make a final ruling.

Causseaux has 10 days to issue a ruling, which won’t take affect unless the City Council gives final approval of the project.

Gil Hulsmann, vice president of land developers Abbey Road Group, representing the Christian Faith Center project, said he and church officials concurred with the staff reports.

He said Christian Faith Center is willing to move forward with the eight additional requirements, and the church even plans to do more than is required to mitigate the project, including adding water-quality discharge treatment at both basins.

Garet Monger, a private wetlands biologist brought on by the Abbey Road Group, said the success of created wetlands is dependent on a number of variables, but said the mitigated wetlands at the Christian Faith Center site “have a high chance of success.”

At a council meeting after the hearing, Davina Blake, a Christian Faith Center member, spoke in favor of the project. She pointed out the church use wouldn’t have a worse impact on the natural environment than a business park, for which the property is currently zoned.

“It appears the wetlands are only important when people are opposed to the project,” she said.

She said the benefits the church would provide to Federal Way –– including food and clothing drives, feeding programs, counseling groups and activities for children, singles, parents, families and teens –– would outweigh a loss in tax revenue from whatever businesses might one day locate there.

“How would the city provide the services this church offers?” she asked. “Christian Faith Center has effectively reached thousands without burdening the city.We want to rise up and positively benefit communities.”

Project opponent Juliet Sykes said the location is wrong, regardless of the services the church plans to offer. She reiterated her concern with the potential loss of tax revenue, the increase in traffic and the impact to the wetlands.

“I don’t care what they do in their church, nor do I really want to know what they do in their church,” she said. “Where they want to put the church is inappropriate, period. There’s plenty of other property in the county, or in Pierce County.”

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

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