Members of Valley Christian Fellowship suffered a setback on Wednesday when the Douglas County Planning Commission unanimously rejected a proposal for their new church.
Planning commissioners voted 4-0 to deny a special use permit that would have allowed the construction of a 30,000-square-foot church on the edge of the Silveranch subdivision in the Gardnerville Ranchos.
Planning commissioners Mike Olson, Lawrence Howell and JoEtta Brown were absent for the vote.
"[The project] is incompatible with the surrounding area," said Vice Chair Rick Ross.
The site of the proposal, owned by Holstein Farms, is a 5.43-acre parcel between Centerville Lane and Drayton Boulevard. The property is zoned for single-family residential construction. Tentative parcel maps for five residential lots on the property were previously approved and will expire in January.
The proposed church would be built in three phases. Phase one would see the construction of a 14,000-square-foot main sanctuary building. Phase two would include a porte-cochere and 2,000-square-foot entry atrium. Phase three would see a 14,000-square-foot gymnasium/classroom.
County Code allows churches to built in residential zones with the approval of a special use permit and design review.
County staff recommended approval of the project, but set several conditions, including photometric lighting plans demonstrating no light from the facility would spill onto adjacent properties, construction of six-foot screen walls on the east and west perimeters of the property, and an agreement that parking lot lighting would be turned off by 9 p.m.
But opponents of the project, mostly residents of Silveranch, said the conditions were not enough.
"Traffic will overflow onto our small streets," said John Reardon, who lives on Sierra Vista Drive, west of the property. "[The project] will continually fill our neighborhood with noise, fumes, pollution and light."
Planning Chair Margaret Pross agreed that increased traffic could be a problem.
"Everyone would be leaving at once," she said. "There is a potential for accidents."
County staff estimated that the completed project would generate 274 average daily trips, below the 500 threshold that requires a more detailed traffic impact analysis.
Project spokesman Rob Anderson said traffic generated by the church would be highest during Sunday, when traffic is lowest in the neighborhood. He also said the applicant would be seeking a right-in/right-out access point at Centerville Lane, to lessen traffic on Drayton Blvd.
"Valley Christian Fellowship has been here a long, long time," Anderson said. "We trust the neighborhood will find them good neighbors. The church next to you will be a benefit, not a detriment."
Many Silveranch residents said they were not opposed to a church being built, just opposed to the scale and magnitude of the current proposal.
"I'm not opposed to a church on the site," said David James, who also lives on Sierra Vista Drive. "I am opposed to a complex of this size. The site is not planned for it. It's the wrong location, and it's too big."
Tom Zogorski, who lives at the corner of Drayton and Silveranch Road, said the facility would be used for a lot more than worship. He pointed to the bingo and rummage sale events held at the 31,000-square-foot St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville.
"They use the St. Gall gym until midnight," he said.
Anderson refuted the comparison.
"This should not be a critique of what St. Gall does or does not do," he said. "We believe that the application is justified and this is the appropriate land use. We have meet the requirements of Douglas County code."
Stacy Kruger, the 23-year-old daughter-in-law of Valley Christian Pastor Leo Kruger, said her church has been looking for property for a long time.
"When this place came up, it was a miracle," she said. "It would be an asset to the community."
Associate Pastor Rob Simpson said churches are part of the foundation of a community.
"This is not a casino," he said. "Our thought and intent is to be a benefit to the community. We are out to help people. I believe whatever neighborhood we go into will be blessed."
Valley Christian Fellowship is currently located in the old movie theater of the Meadowdale Center in Gardnerville.