County Council reviews Snyderville Basin church’s request to expand
December 3, 2017
The Summit County Council continues to tread carefully when considering granting special exception requests, preserving the process for situations that are deemed unique or equitable circumstances.
The County Council on Wednesday reviewed Mountain Life Church's request to significantly expand its current operations to the open space surrounding the site on Silver Creek Road.
The special exception is requesting relief from the open space obligation that is required under the church's development agreement.
County Council Chair Chris Robinson said Mountain Life Church was "just testing the waters" to determine whether the County Council would encourage them to submit a formal application for the special exception. The proposed expansion would include an additional 12,446 square feet of capacity and 420 parking spaces. No formal action was taken during the meeting.
Robinson appeared to be the only Council member in favor of allowing Mountain Life Church to begin the review process in the hopes of receiving approval.
"The issue is that their development agreement expired years ago," he said. "My concern was it is unfair to lock that in time when they are proposing to bring 20 additional acres to the table."
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Mountain Life Church's development agreement expired in 2005, five years after it was originally granted. It allowed construction of a 17,100-square-foot building and 138 parking spaces.
The community benefits that were established at the time included wetland mitigation and enhancements, a play field for limited public use and restricted open space.
While the agreement expired, the community benefits and obligations attached to the development are to remain in effect and "run with the land," according to a planning department staff report.
Mountain Life Church said it is requesting the expansion to accommodate a growing congregation. Steve White, executive pastor of Mountain Life Church, has said the church has reached its capacity in its current footprint.
White has said that the special exception is one of the only options available to acquire the additional space because of the expired development agreement. Before the meeting on
Wednesday, he said Mountain Life Church doesn't really have a backup plan if the Council is not supportive of the special exception request.
White said the church could stop accepting new members or consider relocating. But, both options, he said, were unfavorable.
The County Council has been careful when reviewing special exception requests lately to avoid opening the door to more requests. Wednesday's discussion came roughly a week after the County Council denied another special exception request application.
Robinson said he is frustrated with the code when it "hems us in and makes it so the right thing can't be easily done." He added, "We weren't actually going to approve any of what they were asking."
"But, it would have made it so that they are free to go back to the Planning Commission to see if they could get approval for a larger church," he said. "Then they could have dealt with the wetlands issues and the rest of the issues that could arise, but they can't because their development agreement is expired."
Robinson said some Council members get hung up on whether a special exception request is justified to rectify a unique or equitable circumstance. He said the Council again discussed revisiting the code to create a better tool for applicants to amend expired development agreements.
"I would like Mountain Life Church to have a chance to go before the Planning Commission to see if they can create a win-win for their community and for themselves," he said. "I'm a big fan of trying to find a common ground for the common good.”
"Some may argue they'll never be able to do it because they can't protect the wetlands or there are too many people in Silver Creek already, which may be valid arguments," he added. "But, they don't have an opportunity to counter those arguments unless they go before the commission."
It is unclear what the next steps will be for Mountain Life Church in pursuit of seeking additional capacity. White was unavailable for comment following the meeting.
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