By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
A small parcel of land in Del Cerro may be the home of a new church — or maybe not.
On April 25, representatives of All Peoples Church presented plans to the Del Cerro Action Council for The Light Project— a 900-seat church with a gym, classrooms and offices. If ultimately approved by the city, the church would be the second project approved for the same parcel of land along College Avenue, just south of the Chevron Station at Del Cerro Boulevard. In December 2017, the city approved a project by developers ColRich to build 24 single-family homes on the 6-acre site. That project was widely panned by neighboring residents due to traffic concerns created by limited access to the property along busy College Avenue, which prompted the Navajo Community Planners to not recommend the proposal in May 2017, although the city ultimately ignored that recommendation.
The Light Project is already facing some similar pushback from neighbors. At the April 25 meeting, Del Cerro residents again brought up questions about access to the property, as well as traffic concerns, design concerns and questions about what activities the church would hold at the property and when.
All Peoples Church Pastor Robert Herber said the church currently holds two regular services on Sundays, along with Sunday and Tuesday evening youth group meetings at its current 300-seat location along University Avenue in North Park. Herber said those meetings would continue at the new church and that the church would also be available for other community needs.
“And obviously the gym,” he added. “When [my family] lived in this neighborhood, there were only a couple gyms that kids had, so I’d love to be able to facilitate kids’ sports on Saturday mornings.”
Herber said his church is excited at the opportunity to build a permanent home.
“We were trying to find a spot between the 94 and the 15 [interstates] and the 125 and the 52 [highways] and we looked for years,” he said.
All Peoples Church began 11 years ago with congregants meeting at Horace Mann Middle School in Mid-City, then moved to Crawford High School until it was torn down, then temporarily set up services at SDSU before moving to its current location of an industrial building on University Avenue in North Park.
All Peoples Church bought the Del Cerro property from ColRich in December of 2017, the same month that the city approved the 24 single-family home project.
Repeated calls to ColRich representatives for comment on why the property was sold immediately after finally getting approval for the project were not answered by press time. However, at the April 25 meeting, Marcela Escobar-Eck, a planning consultant for the church project, said the property owner sold the land to All Peoples because he has an “affinity” for the church.
The timeline of the property sale to the church was a point of contention at the DCAC meeting, with one woman accusing the church of pulling a “bait-and-switch.”
“Twenty-four homes on a good side equals less than 50 cars. A church with 900 members equals 500 cars. Do the math,” she said. “We thought we were getting 48 cars and now we’re being presented with 500-plus cars and oh, by the way, it’s only on Sunday and a couple of days during the week and so forth. But those of us who are impacted as a community are looking at this going, ‘How did we get from 48 cars to 500 and how does that impact our community?’”
Escobar-Eck pointed out that there is no bait-and-switch because the church still needs to go through the city’s planning process.
“We can’t go out and build a church tomorrow,” she said. “We have to go through a very lengthy, open, public process and ultimately the decision makers may say, ‘We don’t think it’s a good idea here.’ Or they may say, ‘We think this is a much better idea than homes.’ We don’t know that yet.”
Escobar-Eck added that the homes project is still very much a possibility.
“The housing project is still an approval that exists, so if for whatever reason The Light Project doesn’t go through, the houses will be built,” she said.
DCAC chair Mark Rawlins pointed out that having two options gives the community more input on what will ultimately be built on the property.
“The bottom line is this, something’s going to be built there. What would you like it to be? As a community, this is our opportunity to put as much impact on what we’d like to see to make it work,” he said.
All Peoples Church submitted the proposal for The Light Project to the city on April 26. In addition to the 900-seat sanctuary and the gym, the project includes 12 classrooms, 374 parking spaces in a mix of parking structure and surface parking, a prayer room and an outdoor space for gathering.
“The goal was really to create a quality architectural church location to really be a good neighbor,” Escobar-Eck said, adding that the site design keeps the larger elements of the buildings closer to the freeway to not impede on the views of neighbors located above the property.
“We really worked at tucking that parking structure into the hillside,” she said.
One resident requested that the upper level parking not have lights on poles and joked that the project’s name — The Light Project — had him worried.
Escobar-Eck assured him that the name was just a metaphor.
“We took great care in designing the parking structure the way that we did right now so that we don’t have any intrusions,” she said.
The project addresses the access problem to the property with a proposed new intersection at its entrance. The intersection would cut through the median on College Avenue to allow access to and from both north and southbound traffic. There would also be a curb cut on College.
“Whether we have any success with that or not, we don’t know,” Escobar-Eck said, adding that the intersection might not include a traffic light because traffic during Sunday services is not during peak hours.
Other residents brought up concerns over the classrooms in the project, but Herber promised that they would only be used intermittently and not as a daily daycare for a preschool facility.
One woman implied that the zoning for the property — institutional — would open the door for the church to be used as a drug rehab facility or halfway house.
“There’s no hidden agenda here,” Escobar-Eck said, adding that the property was zoned institutional because “that’s what you have to do to build a church.”
Because of the concerns of nearby residents, Escobar-Eck and Herber promised to make the process as open and transparent as they can by offering to return to the Del Cerro Action Council with updates, present the Navajo Planners with informational presentations and meet with residents in small groups to get input on how the project can be improved.
“I grew up in a smaller town. I get that change is hard,” Herber said. “My hope, and even why I would be in these consistent meetings, is that in the end, you guys would say, ‘Man, these guys really care about community and they’re not trying to do some big deal.’ We feel very fortunate that we were given this opportunity with this land that was sold to us.”
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.