More than a year has passed since The Rock of Southwest began the process of rezoning. Now it has reached the public stage, with its first hearing before the planning commission Jan. 9.
Among the reasons the case has been drawn out are that the church adjusted its draft official development plan multiple times to better meet Jefferson County standards. Westridge, the neighborhood where The Rock is located, has also voiced some heavy resistance, from individuals and the homeowner association.
Two community meetings, the first on Dec. 19, 2006, and another on July 11, 2007, showed both sides had strong feelings about The Rock’s expansion.
The church inhabits a former YMCA facility along West Alamo Place several blocks west of South Kipling Street. The 37,000-square-foot structure is currently zoned for a maximum footprint of 21,105 square feet.
Alan Tiefenbach, the Jefferson County planner overseeing the case, has recommended denial of The Rock’s plan in his staff report. Among reasons for his recommendation, Tiefenbach sites a proposal that is not in conformance with the South Jefferson County Community Plan because “it does not meet Land Use and Design Guidelines sections of the Plan.”
“The proposed land use is not compatible with existing and allowable land uses in the surrounding area because the magnitude of the proposed expansion is significantly out of character with the surrounding residential community,” the staff recommendation says.
Westridge is a mature neighborhood of about 1,000 homes. Neighbors opposing the church’s growth say it is already large enough, and that traffic along Alamo Place could become unmanageable.
“And that’s the problem,” said Doyle James, a Westridge resident opposed to the church’s expansion. “I don’t have a problem at all with the church, and that’s been our position all along. We don’t have a problem with the church or their message, but they have already outgrown that site. It’s such an impact on the community.”
James said the homeowner association is hoping for a strong turnout at the planning commission hearing.
The hearing, scheduled for 6:15 Wednesday, begins with Tiefenbach’s presentation of the staff report. That will be followed by a presentation from church staff before the hearing is opened for public comment.
Westridge residents opposed to the church’s expansion went through the neighborhood last week circulating a petition. The idea is to show that there is opposition, even though not all of it can make it to the hearing.
“There will be residents there,” James said. “Some will testify; some won’t. But yes, there’ll be homeowners there. I don’t know how many. It’s hard to gauge because folks have lives.”
Tiefenbach joked that attending the hearing could require dinner and a sleeping bag. Each person who contributes to the public comment portion is given three minutes to speak.
Based on community reaction over the past year, there could be a good number of participants once the presentations have been made.
“We’ll have people testifying about what the church does or has the prospect of doing,” James said. “We’ll just have to see how that goes. From my perspective — but I don’t have a vote on the planning commission — it’s a no-brainer. It’s absolutely huge, and to put something like that into a mature community, I just question how that can happen to anybody. It’s like building a Wal-Mart store right in the middle of our neighborhood. There’d be no question about that.”
The Jan. 9 hearing will be followed by a Jan. 23 Board of Adjustment hearing.
The Rock purchased land between it and Westridge Elementary from Jeffco Public Schools in September 2004. That land was originally zoned Denver R-1, which allows some of the church’s proposed uses. The Rock initially wanted to bring both properties under one zoning guideline, which would allow it to expand outward and include a new multipurpose facility.
Because the prospect of rezoning started to look difficult, the church said it might use the original Denver zoning for its purposes. However, Jefferson County’s planning department said that, since there was no prior development, the empty land would revert to PD, which restricts it to some parking and park or open space.
The Board of Adjustment hearing is The Rock’s attempt to overrule the PD zoning and maintain the Denver-zoned land it believed it purchased in 2005.
A final hearing before the county commissioners is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 5.