Gilroy Dispatch(November 21, 2003): Council rejects church site

Posted: Friday, November 21, 2003 12:00 am

MORGAN HILL – The City Council faced a decision Wednesday that would have challenged Solomon when it had to decide between a church’s right to buy property and the business community’s right to protect itself.

Its controversial 3-2 decision to uphold the business side effectively shut the church out of its choice of building, but the conclusion took two-and-one-half hours of discussion and testimony to reach.

The Generations Four Square Church, now located in San Jose, wanted to buy a 41,000-square-foot building at 675 Jarvis Drive, owned by Anritsu Corp., in the Morgan Hill Ranch Business Park, south of Cochrane Road and between the railroad tracks and U.S. 101. The area is primarily zoned for light industrial but does not forbid churches if a conditional use permit (CUP) is granted by the city.

Anritsu wants to sell the property; the church wants to buy. The problems are parking, hazardous materials and property values.

In order to be granted a conditional use permit, the church must secure agreements with neighbors allowing church members to use the adjacent parking lots once the congregation outgrows the 675 Jarvis Drive lot, which it expects to do, being a growing church. The church has sharing agreements with several neighbors that are good only until those buildings are sold or re-leased.

The business park’s CC&Rs want permanent parking agreements that won’t ever go away.

Hazardous materials, used by many light industrial companies, are present within the 300-feet radius as noticed by the city and 1,000-feet as noticed by the CC&Rs, said City Planning Manager Jim Rowe.

The fact that children will be present, on Sundays and Wednesday night services and after school in homework programs, triggers a requirement that neighboring companies notify each and every parent when they add potentially harmful or emitting components – within 30 days.

According to Rowe, an example would be the addition of a back-up generator that emits particulates.

The specter of an accident that harmed children hung over the council’s decision making. Even though few accidents occur in light industrial areas where churches are increasingly locating, the chance that one is possible and that the council would be held responsible by a crowd of angry parents, church members and citizens, contributed to council’s decision.

Property values were questioned by several speakers, claiming that in a down economy, businesses looking for properties will shy away from those with restrictions, such as those imposed by the presence of children around hazardous materials.

Speaking against allowing the church to locate in a situation they clearly considered difficult if not dangerous, were Robert Eves of Venture Corp., owners of the ranch, Barbara Lopez, director of government relations for Abbott Laboratories and Donald Dunn, who moved his business from the Edenvale Business Park in San Jose – where the church is now located – partly because of problems with church-related traffic, even relating an incident when he almost backed over a child whose family was attending the church.

Parishioner Robert Collins insisted that children are carefully watched and that no one has every complained.

In a 3-2 vote with Council members Hedy Chang and Larry Carr voting against, council upheld Venture Corp’s appeal which then denied the CUP which makes Anritsu’s’ appeal of the parking agreement requirement moot. They also directed staff to incorporate the council’s findings for denying the CUP into a resolution to be brought back on Dec. 3. The Anritsu appeal not to require long term parking agreements will also return.

“I am disappointed in having to do this,” said Councilman Steve Tate. “I see the church as very compatible there, but the neighbors have made it an issue.”

Mayor Dennis Kennedy said he wanted to hear more about the haz mat impact on property values.

Asked Thursday if there was any hope that the neighbors would change their minds, Jim Coffaro, the church’s executive pastor was pessimistic.

“There’s very little hope,” Coffaro said. He did say the church has not given up on Morgan Hill.

“We will be looking again at all properties available,” he said.

Pastor Al Soto, on Thursday, wanted Morgan Hill residents to know what kind of people the council voted against.

“We are a regional congregation,” he said, “with parishioners from Salinas in the south, Oakland in the east, and Sunnyvale in the north.” A nearby freeway exit is important, he said. “We are very, very proactive in community events – many of our pastors coach at the high school level.”

Collins said Thursday that the church has even offered to staff the new aquatic center, having heard that the city hasn’t enough money to staff the center once it is finished.

“We have large constituency and need a place where we can do what we do well,” Soto said. But he wants people to know that they aren’t pointing the finger of blame at anyone; they just want to be good neighbors.

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