After struggling with the objections of local government and potential neighbors for more than 14 years, the Life Church should be able to build a new sanctuary on property just north of Hailey, county officials said last week.
The Life Church was tentatively approved for a conditional-use permit during a Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Thursday. The permit would allow the church to construct an 8,500-square-foot building on a 6.2-acre parcel across from Albertsons.
In addition to a sanctuary capable of seating up to 162 people, the building will include several classrooms, a nursery, kitchen and office space.
The commissioners and neighbors expressed concern about eventual uses of the church's remaining property as well as visual and other impacts of the site. The building will stand 33 feet high, roughly the same height as the neighboring Albertsons building.
"That's a big building my neighbors are going to be looking at," said Christine Cole, who lives near the currently vacant lot. "That is our only buffer between the highway, Albertsons and our yards."
Cole and fellow neighbor Dennis Weaver said they would prefer that the building be shielded in some way from the neighborhood to minimize visual impact.
Deborah Vignes, the site's architect, said the plans could include a berm with cottonwood trees that would fill in and screen the church.
The cottonwoods would not address the neighbors' concerns about accessory uses of the property, however. Cole said the church has held large-scale events in the past, events she does not want to see in its new location.
"There have been revivals, there have been homeless people," she said. "I am very concerned."
Mike Hendricks, senior pastor for the Life Church, said the church has only held two outdoor events. One was an outdoor service attended by roughly 90 people, and the other was a Spanish-language service that involved music, which neighbors said they worried would be disturbing.
Neighbors also called for a limitation on the potential future uses of the building and the vacant land surrounding it. The church owns a separate four-acre parcel adjacent to the property in question, and commissioners and neighbors said they worried about future subdivision and development.
"I would like it to be an obvious thing that they cannot put a strip mall on the highway across from Albertsons in 30 years," said county resident Patricia Weaver.
The county could not impose such restrictions during the meeting, said Commissioner Pat Murphy.
"We can conjecture all we want about what is going to happen on the other property, but that's not what we are here to do," Murphy said. "This is all we're talking about, this 6.2 acres."
Ed Lawson, the church's attorney, cautioned against the county's considering any restrictions on the church's plans.
"This is a church. You are the government. And there is a constitutional issue that comes up," Lawson said.
Though the commissioners decided to submit the application to Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves before final approval, Murphy dismissed Lawson's argument.
"It's not the first time this has been brought up," he said, citing the county's approval of a conditional-use permit for the Calvary Bible Church in 1986. Conditions contained in that permit were not challenged by the church.
The commissioners voted to approve the church's application, with the added condition that any accessory uses—including camping, accessory dwelling units, vehicle or boat storage and other uses—would have to come back before the commission and the public for approval.
Any future subdivision or development would have to be approved by the commission as well.
The commission will vote whether to give the church final permit approval during its next meeting. A building permit will be required before the church begins construction.
Vignes said the church has no plans for other uses or even to expand in the future.
"It has been a long and a little bit of a winding road for the church to get to this point," Vignes said. "All along our goal has been to build a church, and that's still our desire."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org