A Silver Creek church is seeking to more than double in size while the county needs to buy an easement across its land
A proposal to more than double the size of a church in Silver Creek to 44,000 square feet was given unofficial support from members of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission Wednesday, though coordinating that project with a county road project that cuts across the land was not part of the proposal.
Summit County is seeking an 80-foot-wide easement through the church’s property to construct a second access point for the Silver Creek neighborhood, but county officials said state law requires that project remain separate from the church expansion.
About 75 people attended the public hearing, most apparently parishioners of the Mountain Life Church who spoke in support of the expansion project. A few neighbors voiced opposition and offered “useful input” on how the project’s impacts could be reduced, said Malena Stevens, chair of the Planning Commission.
The church is seeking to expand from 18,346 square feet to 44,156 square feet. The proposal includes an additional 254 parking spaces and an 1,800-square-foot maintenance building, according to a report prepared by county planner Tiffanie Northrup-Robinson. The church owns an 11-acre parcel where it sits now and an adjacent 29-acre parcel where the parking lot would go.
Mountain Life’s executive pastor Steve White said the church is quickly approaching capacity and that the expansion would allow it to continue to serve church and community groups that regularly meet there. He said there are about 700 churchgoers split between two services on an average Sunday.
A key benefit in the plan, White said, would be improvements to the child care facilities on-site, with rooms specifically designed for kids.
The commission indicated support for the project, though no action was taken. Commissioners asked the applicant to perform more detailed engineering and design work — including for a stormwater system — in light of the project’s proximity to wetlands.
The contemplated connecting road eyed by the county, tentatively known as Church Street, would cut through the church’s land, though officials are far from finished engineering and designing the route.
While the Planning Commission must consider the church expansion independent of the road project, Stevens said the commissioners told the applicant they prefer the projects proceed in coordination with one another to avoid duplicative efforts.
“With the road currently being in process as well, it’s something we asked the applicant as well as staff to look into working on that concurrently,” Stevens said.
The process to decide where to put the Silver Creek connection lasted more than a decade before the site was determined last month. It came down to two options, one involving the Bitner Ranch and the other the land owned by the church. An attorney representing the Bitner family indicated the family would not easily part with land for the easement and that it might require the county to condemn the land using eminent domain, which would likely add significant cost to the project.
White, however, said the church’s intention is to work in good faith with the county, though it can’t act until there’s a formal offer on the table.
“Our thought is — at such time as that connector road becomes a reality, that’s when we’re able to be in a position to try and coordinate efforts, including construction efforts,” White said. “(The road route) takes up some of the area that is currently … planned to include parking. So we will definitely need to coordinate, but we’re wanting to be good neighbors and part of that is to do the best we can to coordinate with our community leaders.”
Dave Thomas, the county’s chief civil deputy attorney, said the county manager and church representatives have had discussions about acquiring the land and that those talks would continue.
Thomas also said the Snyderville Basin Development Code would not allow the county to offer incentives like increased density if the church agrees to part with some of its land.
“There are no incentives available for general community benefits, such as right-of-way acquisition,” Thomas wrote in an email. “The acquisition of right-of-way is not a result of the Church’s (conditional use permit) application and cannot be a condition of approval.”
This is not the first time the church has sought to expand. Its entitlements date back 20 years and are tied to community benefits like open space, a play field and wetland mitigation.
In late 2017, the church sought a special exemption from its open space requirements, according to the staff report. The County Council did not make an official action, but strongly indicated it would not make the exception. That forced the church to retool its application, Robinson explained, and the Planning Commission held a work session to discuss the new application in May.
A letter from the church states that it had fewer than 100 regular attendees in its early days. Now, that number is about 1,600.
White said the future of the project appears bright.
“We’re really excited about the whole expansion, we’re really pleased with the way the meeting was positive,” White said. “The commissioners had some great thoughts and they were generally supportive. And we’re just excited to be able to finally move forward for our own internal programming and to better meet the needs of a growing community.”
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