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By Mike Hazlip–
The Citrus Heights Planning Commission following a public hearing on Wednesday unanimously approved four resolutions that will allow Pioneer Baptist Church to move ahead with plans for a new campus to be built on a 3.88-acre property across from Rusch Park.
The July 28 meeting was held virtually via Zoom with six commission members present. Representatives from the church as well as architectural and engineering firms also joined the meeting remotely. About 20 additional viewers watched the live stream on the city’s YouTube channel.
With Commissioner Paul Makhnovskiy absent, the remaining six planning commission members heard an overview of the project presented by City Associate Planner Allison Bermudez. The presentation included visuals of the three parcel property overlaid with the site plan for the new church and associated parking lots.
Plans show the facility will include a 30-foot steeple and a sanctuary that will hold over 400 people. Plans include an auditorium, classrooms, a gymnasium, and space for a daycare to operate Monday-Friday.
Most commissioner questions centered around the parking lot size and traffic flow. The site plan calls for two parking areas that are divided by Cripple Creek. The creek runs through the site, limiting development to areas outside the associated flood zones.
The plan calls for improvements to the sidewalk along the east side of Auburn Boulevard, and an enlarged intersection at Auburn Boulevard and Grand Oaks Boulevard to allow traffic exiting the church to make a U-turn. None of the exits from the church are designed to allow left turns onto southbound Auburn Boulevard.
A city staff report said the size and type of facility requires a minimum of 108 parking spaces, as per the zoning code. The approved site plan provides 111 spaces, but a condition of approval requires the church to provide a parking management plan to the city, if parking were to become a problem in the future due to growth.
Commissioner Michael Nishimura raised questions over more short-term impacts to traffic, if the church plans special events, or for highly attended services such as Easter.
“There’s too many maybe’s here, what about during Easter when there’s higher turn out. What are they going to do when they do exceed the regular parking lot?” Nishimura said.
Pastor Kyle Conley responded during the meeting that the church would provide vehicles to transport people to the site and discourage pedestrians crossing Auburn Boulevard from nearby parking lots. The current Pioneer Baptist site on Old Auburn Road also has limited parking, and Conley said the congregation already uses church vehicles to transport parishioners during services.
Commission members also questioned the proximity of the church to the flood zones around Cripple Creek. A portion of the parking lot and the main entrance to the church encroaches on the flood zone, but the project was given a variance by city officials because there is no alternative way to access the property, according to city officials.
Wednesday’s vote to approve the project was the culmination of several years of planning and fundraising for Pioneer Baptist. The Sentinel has chronicled the project in reports dating back as far as 2018.
Commission Vice Chair Marcelle Flowers said she had seen an outpouring of support for the project from the community. The Planning Commission’s agenda packet included letters of support from more than 30 people, mostly church members, which Flowers said was more than she had seen for any other project.
“One of the things that really stuck out to me in those letters was the desire to really help minister to the community around them,” said Flowers. “I don’t know any better goal for a church than to be able to minister to their community.”
Commissioner Talaya Turner Mike also added a comment saying she recognized the need for the church to have a larger facility.
“I’m very supportive of this church and the location and what it looks like,” Turner Mike said. “I think it’s going to be absolutely beautiful.”
Commission Chairman Thomas Scheeler said he was initially skeptical of the project, but now feels the building will be an asset to the Auburn Boulevard corridor, and the community.
“I think the design is really beautiful, I think it’s really an asset along Auburn Boulevard and just compliment all the other development that’s taking place along Auburn Boulevard,” Scheeler said.
Conley clapped and raised his hands as the commission approved the plan.
“First of all thank you commissioners, I appreciate that very much. Thank you so much,” the pastor said in a brief emotional statement after the vote. “We’re very excited about this and we really appreciate it.”
Conley previously told The Sentinel he hopes the new building will be a “beacon of hope” for the community. He plans to be a good neighbor with surrounding homes and businesses while also serving others.
“Our goal for this building literally is not to be just for our church,” he said. “This is not just to serve our church. How can we use this to minister to everybody in our community?”
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