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Expansion application by SCC needs refining

By Staff | Mar 9, 2011

During Tuesday’s Planning Commission session, a conditional use permit application was introduced by representatives from Sanibel Community Church, who have proposing a major restoration and expansion at the facility’s campus.

However, members of the city’s Planning Department staff identified a number of concerns with the application, which is also seeking a development permit and temporary use permit to coincide with the construction project.

In their conditional use permit application, introduced to the commission by Raymond Pavelka, chairman of the church’s Facilities Committee, plans include the construction of a new 630-seat sanctuary, administrative offices, media room, bookstore and cafe, as well as the addition of a 600-square-foot garage at Sanibel Community Church.

They are also proposing to remodel their chapel, hall, kitchen and Family Life Center as well as expand the existing courtyard and off-street parking areas.

A request for a temporary use permit to install a 60-foot-by-24-foot modular building to serve as the church’s administrative offices for the duration of the proposed construction activities was also detailed for the commission to consider.

According to Jimmy Jordan, Director of Planning, his staff report cited some concerns which need to be addressed before a final application is submitted on behalf of the church.

“One of the things that I want to emphasize is that this application is still before you,” said Jordan. It can be amended and it can be changed.

The biggest issue was whether or not the proposed number of off-street parking spaces are sufficient to accommodate the church’s planned expansion to add a 630-seat sanctuary. According to Land Development Code Section 126-1361, churches, theaters, auditoriums and public assembly halls are to provide one parking space for every three fixed seats, or one space for every 100 square feet of floor area, whichever is greater.

According to staff calculations, with a total seating capacity of 840 seats within the entire church campus, 280 parking spaces would be required under the first LDC formula; under the second formula, 430 spaces are required. As proposed on their application, 249 conventional parking spaces will be provided.

Church leaders have also proposed adding 58 stacked parking spaces, which would require several parking attendants to oversee, along with 46 parking spaces next door at Jerry’s Shopping Center. That would bring the total available parking to 353 spaces.

Jordan’s report also questioned whether the proposed site plan could be further improved to address concerns related to “stacked” parking, vehicular circulation and traffic movement, the streetscape vista of the proposed expansion and if the improvements are compatible with the physical and environmental characteristics of the site and surrounding lands and uses.

Following his report, Jordan suggested that the discussion of the church’s applications be continued to a date uncertain.

“That will give the applicant their ‘day in court’ so there will be no misunderstandings,” he added.

Dr. Phillip Marks questioned whether the number of parking spaces required by the LDC was a genuine concern for the commission, after learning that the church’s top attendance mark recorded in the past year was less than 300.

“I just can’t see, even on Easter, that all of these spaces are going to be used,” said Marks.

Fellow commissioner Chuck Ketteman wondered if it was fair for the seven-member panel to speculate on attendance figures in the future.

“It would be interesting to know if Jerry’s (Shopping Center parking lot) has ever been full at 10 ‘o’ clock on a Sunday morning,” he added.

Jordan noted that the parking issue “warrants examination and discussion.

“It’s not an application that you’re going to make a quick decision on,” he said. “I want to make sure there is a due process given to this.

Paul Reynolds, who earlier questioned whether his involvement with a business located in the Jerry’s Shopping Center would require him to recuse himself from voting on the application, offered that is was the commission’s duty to plan for the future, whether they should consider if attendance statistics might return to “the glory days of Sanibel.

“If we don’t, we might be creating a ticking time bomb,” he added.

Ketteman suggested that the commission make a “sensible” estimate of traffic patterns, which should not be based upon either peak figures or upon the current recession statistics.

Michael Valiquette, commission chair, stated that he was concerned about any applicant who proposes a plan to “triple in size” and how traffic will be affected on the island. He also pointed out other concerns, including the proposed ecological zone calculations submitted in their application, any stormwater retention plans as well as the city’s off-site parking regulations.

“We have been in this process for quite some time,” said Pavelka. “But to put things into proper perspective, we are not tripling our seating and we are not doubling our square footage.

Pavelka noted a typographical error in the city’s staff report which stated the church’s proposed expansion to “430,000 square feet,” which is 10 times the actual plan. Also, the number of seats proposed for the sanctuary is 630 seats, up from it’s current 420 seats, “which is closer to 50 percent.”

In addition, Pavelka said that the church’s amended application would be willing to impose a condition not to run concurrent services in all three locations (sanctuary, chapel and hall) on the campus.

No date for the applications to be returned to the commission was announced.