Residents complain about new church design |

Residents complain about new church design

by Linda Hiller

What should a church building look like? Traditional architecture with a steeple and pitched roof, or can it look like something that doesn’t resemble a church at all?

This issue is at the core of complaints by neighbors of the new Carson Valley Christian Center under construction at Stephanie Lane and Heybourne Road in the Johnson Lane area.

“My view to the southwest used to be the Sierra,” said neighbor to the north Bill Ramsden. “Now it is a very large industrial tilt-up concrete building being built by the Carson Valley Christian Center. I don’t object to a church going in, but the architecture doesn’t blend with the neighborhood.”

Ramsden, who owns Central Sierra Construction, said he wrote to CVCC in August 1997 after seeing a sketch of the proposed church building.

“On any building site, the first thing the architect does is to look at the architecture in the area and try to blend in. I politely asked them to reconsider the type of structure they were proposing and asked that they consider an architecture that would blend better with the surrounding neighborhood,” he said. “I had no response whatsoever.”

Ramsden said he doesn’t necessarily feel a church has to have tall steeples and traditional architecture. His company built the Presbyterian Church building in Minden that resembles a large barn with traditional elements.

“This is an agricultural Valley, so make it look like a barn, but just not a big boxy industrial building,” he said.

– Church’s perspective. Carson Valley Christian Center pastor John Jackson said he had received only three inquiries about the building prior to the walls going up. The church has been located at 2221 Meridian Way since February 1998 and its fast-growing congregation as well as plans for future growth, was the impetus for a new 18,000-square-foot building. Last Easter, 1,300 people attended services at the church.

“We chose this location because we thought it was central,” he said. “Forty percent of our people come from Carson City. Our goal is to be a regional church, with people coming from not only Carson Valley but Carson City, Topaz, Dayton, South Lake Tahoe and beyond.”

Jackson, who is a Genoa resident, said he hopes that the final building, once it’s painted and landscaped, will be not only an asset to the neighborhood, but will ultimately increase property values there.

“What we’re trying to do is to reach people who may have some reaction to a traditional church building. Fifty percent of the people here don’t have a church background and we don’t want them to walk in here and get turned off,” he said. “We are putting in a large berm on the west side and the Stephanie Road side of the building, and we’ll have trees and plants on top of the berm, so it won’t just stick out like a big box.”

– A great big place. The new church building, which Jackson hopes will be ready for occupancy by September, will have 13 classrooms and an 8,000-square-foot auditorium as well as seating to accommodate up to 1,000 people each Sunday in two services. Offices and some classrooms will be in the 4,000-square-foot second story. A parking lot with 205 spaces is just east of the building. The estimated cost of the project is $1.8 million. Funding is coming from within the CVCC through the budget, generous benefactors and donated goods and services, Jackson said.

Tim Totaro, whose house is also across Stephanie Lane from the church, said he, too, contacted Jackson as soon as he saw the land being cleared.

“I’m not against a church, I’m against a commercial building in a residential neighborhood. I wish they’d do something to make it look like a church,” he said. “I wondered about the zoning. This county is pushing on little issues that don’t matter, and it seems as though they’re stuffing this building under our nose. I said to Pete Wysocki, “Is your head buried in the sand?'”

– County’s input. Wysocki is an assistant planner with the county and said that when the Carson Valley Christian Center building was being analyzed for approval or disapproval in 1997, the laws were different than they are today.

“In September, we set new design requirements which addresses the architectural specifications for compatibility in a structure,” he said. “Before that, we didn’t have any strict design guidelines, so at that time we did what we could with (the proposed church building).”

Wysocki said the FR-19 zoning on that site indicates forest and range with a minimum of 19 acres per parcel.

The revised design standards, under the Douglas County Design Criteria and Improvement Standard Manual, would make the CVCC building a different structure if approved today, with more windows and facade treatments, rock veneer articulations, and wall planes that would have to be broken down, Wysocki said. Though the building would today meet the county code regulations for setback, height, parking, etc., it wouldn’t meet current design standards, he said.

– More neighbor concerns. Totaro said his concern is not only for having an industrial-looking building in the neighborhood, but for the traffic.

“What will they do with the traffic? That road (Stephanie) cannot handle that kind of traffic and Heybourne is not paved so people won’t be likely to go down that way and use the light at Johnson Lane. I can just see it on Sundays – it’s going to be backed up at 395.”

– Give your input. Jackson said he would welcome input from neighbors and said that he hopes the Carson Valley Christian Center will emerge as an important asset to the neighborhood, offering an eventual place for teens to go to as well as younger children and adults.

“I want to hope that in two years the neighbors will say, ‘This church has brought life and vitality and joy to our area. It is truly an asset.'”

Ramsden said he is wondering if he and the immediate neighbors are the only ones upset about the building’s appearance.

“I don’t think they realize the degree to which we are upset,” he said. “I’d like to know if others out here object, too. What if 90 percent of the people were irate? What would happen then?”

“Since the building was already approved before the design requirement changes, we have no power to tell them to change their design,” Wysocki said. “It would be up to them to take the initiative.”