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SCC expansion application slowed by parking concerns

By Staff | Jun 15, 2011

During a lengthy Planning Commission meeting, discussions involving the required number of on-site parking spaces that will accommodate Sanibel Community Church’s proposed expansion dominated the agenda.

Church leaders had previously submitted applications for conditional use, temporary use and development permits related to their expansion plan, which includes the construction of a new 630-seat sanctuary, administrative offices, media room, book store and cafe, as well as the addition of a 600-square-foot garage, remodeling of the first and second floors of the existing Family Life Center Fellowship Hall, kitchen and historic 210-seat chapel. They are also planning to expand the existing courtyard and parking areas.

Before deliberations on the matter — which were previously introduced at the commission’s March 8 meeting — began, chairman Michael Valiquette asked City Attorney Ken Cuyler for his legal opinion of whether he would be able to vote on the church’s applications due to allegations that a potential “conflict of interest” had been brought to his attention by Sanibel Community Church representative Tim O’Neill.

According to Cuyler, O’Neill requested a meeting and informed him that the church made contributions to Campus Crusades For Christ, a worldwide religious organization who employs Justin Valiquette, the chairman’s son. Cuyler had advised a conservative approach and suggested that Michael Valiquette recuse himself from voting on the matter.

Valiquette object to the accusation of any potential conflict, noting that he had requested — and had yet to be presented — with any cancelled checks from Sanibel Community Church made out in his son’s name. On the advice of his own personal attorney, Valiquette stated that he would take part in both discussions of the application and any potential vote.

“I have never been biased against any applicant,” he said. “I will have a non-biased decision that will be based strictly on the city’s Land Development Code.”

In the Planning Department’s staff report, the primary issue of concern involved parking for the proposed 840 seats within the expanded church campus. The city code requires one parking space for every three seats, making the minimum number of spaces 280. In the church’s application, they had proposed 249 conventional parking spaces, 58 “stack” parking spaces and 46 additional spaces at Jerry’s Shopping Center, located next door to the church. The retailer and the church have a shared parking agreement.

“The main issue that remains with this application is parking,” said Jimmy Jordan, Director of Planning, who noted that the church has several options how to better utilize their space to meet the demands of its parishioners.

Vice Chairman Dr. Phillip Marks asked Jordan if there were any other areas on the property, including retention and buffer zones, for potential parking spaces. According to Jordan, the submitted site plan indicates that the property is “pretty close to maxing out.”

Raymond Pavelka, architect for the project, told commissioners that in certain instances, the city’s LDC also allows a formula of one parking space per 100 square feet of floor area. However, Valiquette noted that code stipulates “whichever is greater,” a requirement which cannot be ignored.

“What we believe is that we have met the code,” said Pavelka. “We feel that we have enough parking to meet our planned growth, because if you don’t have enough parking, people are going to drive through the lot… and then drive away.”

Jim Bates presented a parking demand study, which detailed that during the peak period of demand for the church — around 9 a.m. — a full capacity estimate of 880 persons would require a total of 306 parking spaces. Given the 249 on-site spaces in their proposal, plus 72 spaces available at Jerry’s, 321 spaces would exceed the requirement of the code.

“And we’re talking about a 15-30 minute period for maybe 10-12 Sundays every year,” he added.

Bates also explained why the church proposed an additional ingress at their westernmost exit. During peak periods, a traffic officer will be hired by the church to direct traffic in and out of the facility. An additional officer stationed at the intersection of Periwinkle Way and Casa Ybel Road would work cooperatively to keep traffic flowing.

Commissioner Chuch Ketteman suggested extending the 45-minute buffer between the end of 9 a.m. service (10:15 a.m.) and the start of the 11 a.m. service another 15 minutes. Tom Krekel agreed, adding, “In my experience with churches, if you build it, they will come.”

Valiquette asked Cuyler if the commission had the authority to alter the parking requirements of the city’s LDC. Cuyler explained that the code specifics are to be used as a guide only.

“Parking areas shall be constructed in accordance with such standards as are approved by the Planning Commission to ensure that they area safe and maintainable and that they allow for sufficient privacy for adjoining uses,” LDC Section 126-82 states.

“I submit to you that they have met all of the parking requirements of the code and have done so adequately,” said attorney Steve Hartsell.

“This makes sense to me, but if the (Planning Department) staff is uncomfortable, then I’m uncomfortable,” said Paul Reynolds.

After some additional debate, Chuck Ketteman requested a poll of the commission to see where they stood on the parking issue.

Five commissioners voted in favor of the application, while Reynolds and Krekel dissented.

“I’m comfortable that there are enough parking spaces to allow this application to move forward,” said Ketteman, who asked if Jordan’s staff would be able to come up with a set of conditions to be included with all three permits prior to final approval. Jordan agreed to have those documents ready in two weeks.

A public hearing on the church applications will take place at 9:10 a.m. on June 28.