DATE:       December 4, 2001 (Revised February 19, 2002)

TO:            Planning Commission & Board of Adjustment

FROM:     Oscar Graham, Planner
                   Community Development Department

FILE NO.: USE2001-00024 & VAR2001-00018

PROPOSAL: A conditional use permit for construction of a sanctuary addition and supporting facilities to an existing church. The total square footage of the facility will be approximately 74, 000 square feet. A Variance is requested to allow for a 49 foot overall height with a 54 foot tower where the CBJ code requires a height restriction of 35 feet.

BACKGROUND

The Planning Commission considered the above referenced land use applications at its August 14, 2001 meeting. Because the Conditional Use permit was predicated on approval of a Variance to build a portion of the building in excess of the 35 foot height limit (to a height of 65 feet) the Variance and Conditional Use permit were presented together. While staff analysis resulted in a recommendation for denial of the Variance, consideration of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) raised a number of questions which complicated consideration of the Variance criteria. Five neighboring property owners provided testimony relative to impacts that they perceived would result from the proposal as set forth in the applications. The resulting discussion ended with the Variance being tabled for consideration at a future meeting. Similarly the Conditional Use application was tabled until the Variance was resolved. The staff reports for the Conditional Use and Variance applications and a memo addressing RLUIPA are included under this memorandum as attachments B, C and D respectively. The minutes of the August 14th Planning Commission meeting are included as attachment E.

Over the past several months the applicant has revised the design of the building to reflect a maximum height of 54 feet. This height is limited to the tower structure located on the southern end of the building. The roofline associated with the remainder of the proposed sanctuary structure is 49 feet 2 inches in height. The overall size and footprint remain unchanged. The applicant and neighboring property owners have met on a number of occasions to identify measures to mitigate the impacts of the expanded facility on neighboring property owners. Discussion has covered a range of mitigation measures including access onto Glacier Highway and retention of vegetated buffers. The applicant has agreed to reduce access to a single commercial grade access from Glacier Highway and to maintain a vegetated buffer around the perimeter of the property. As of the date of this revised memo no agreement had been reached. Proposed agreements from the applicant and the Walpole Acres Homeowners are included as attachment F and G.

 

ANALYSIS

Because the conditional use application has not changed significantly, the staff report and recommendation prepared in conjunction with the August 14th Planning Commission meeting continues to represent the position of the Community Development Department. The conditional use analysis will be amended focus on the modified point of access and condition language.

The Variance application, however, has been reconsidered in light of project modifications and proposed mitigation measures. Reconsideration of the Variance criteria are included at the conclusion of this memo. A revised site plan and elevations have been submitted in order to amend the applications. The site plan and elevations are included as attachment A.

The memorandum discussing RLUIPA included as attachment E no longer represents the recommendation of the Community Development Department. Based on discussion at the August 14th meeting and additional direction of the CBJ Law Department provided at that meeting, staff recommends that the applicability of RLUIPA be considered through the application of two tests:

1.Does the height limitation impose a "substantial burden"? A substantial burden is a burden that prevents the religious adherent from engaging in conduct or having a religious experience which the faith involves. This burden must be more than an inconvenience and must interfere with a tenet or belief that is part of the religious doctrine. It must significantly inhibit or constrain conduct or expression that manifests a tenet of a personís individual beliefs or curtails a personís ability to express his or her adherence to a faith. A substantial burden must deny a person reasonable opportunities to engage in those activities that are fundamental to a personís religion.

2. If the height limit does constitute a substantial burden: a.) Does that burden further a compelling governmental interest? and b.) Is it the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest?

The applicant has not asserted a violation of RLUIPA. Neither has the applicant assumed the burden of proof in demonstrating that a substantial burden exists or that if such a burden exists, that it is not in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. This notwithstanding it does not appear that the height restriction imposed under the land use code constitutes a substantial burden in that it does not prevent the adherent from engaging in religious activities associated with the exercise of the faith. No demonstration has been made that compliance with the height requirements inhibits or restricts in any fundamental sense the practice of faith or religious expression.

If such a substantial burden were successfully demonstrated it would then be necessary to show that the height restriction does not further a compelling governmental interest. In this case the height restriction does further the compelling governmental interests set forth in 49.05.100 PURPOSE AND ITNENT including:

(1) To achieve the goals and objectives, and implement the policies of the Juneau comprehensive Plan and coastal management program;

(2) To insure that future growth and development in the city and borough is in accord with the values of its residents;

(3) To identify and secure, for present and future residents, the beneficial impacts of growth while minimizing the negative impacts;

(4) To ensure that future growth is of the appropriate type, design and location, and is served by a proper range of public services and facilities such as water, sewage, and electrical distribution systems, transportation, schools, parks and other public requirements and in general to promote public health, safely and general welfare;

(5) To provide adequate open space for light and air; and

    1. To recognize the economic value of land and encourage its proper and beneficial use.

Finally, it should be noted that the establishment of the height limit at 35 feet accommodates the predominance of structural proposals for the D-5 zoning district. This height has been established, in part, as the least restrictive standard which will further the uses provided for in this zone. Further relief can be obtained through the Variance procedure if the criteria for granting a Variance are satisfied.

 

RECOMMENDATION

It is recommended that the Planing Commission establish findings relative to RLUIPA. Specifically a finding relating to "substantial burden" should be provided. If the Planning Commission determines that a substantial burden has been imposed on the applicant, further findings addressing "compelling governmental interest" and "least restrictive means" should be drafted. Draft findings will be provided at the commissionís request. If the Commission finds that a "substantial burden" does not exist, or that a compelling governmental interest is being served, and that the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest is being utilized then the standard of review should be the Variance criteria.

The recommendations and conditions associated with USE2001-00024 and VAR2001-00018 are set forth in the staff memos dated July 18, 2001 in attachments B and C. The analysis relating to parking and circulation and conditions associated with USE2001-00024 have been amended below. The recommended denial of VAR2001-00024 has been reconsidered in light of proposed modifications in the project design and additional information provided by the applicant in accordance with the Variance criteria below. The applicantís narrative addressing Variance criteria included as attachment H.

USE2001-00024

A single commercial access will be established to replace two existing access points. The access will be provided to and from Glacier Highway to the eastern portion of the parking area. The applicant currently proposes to locate the access opposite a residential access located on the north side of Glacier Highway. The residential property owner would prefer the access to be staggered approximately 29 feet east of the proposed location. As of the drafting of this memo, the applicant was exploring feasibility of relocating the access. Both points would be acceptable to DOT.

We recommend that the Planning Commission adopt the director's analysis and findings and grant the requested Conditional Use permit. We recommend the approval be made subject to the following conditions:

  1. The existing trees along the perimeter of the site shall be retained, with the exception of those trees which will need to be removed to accommodate the new entrance driveway. 6 foot conifers shall be installed where current plantings have failed and at locations where existing access points will be eliminated. The buffer shall be maintained and replanted as needed with 6 foot conifers on an annual basis.
  2. The lighting shall be shielded so as to not create glare or extend beyond the parking area or tower.

VAR2001-00018

Staff recommends that the Board of Adjustment reconsider the staff analysis set forth in the July 18th memorandum from Sylvia Kreel and adopt the directorís findings contained in this memo which conclude that the grounds for Variances, specifically criteria 5 and 6, are met, and approve the requested Variance to allow a portion of a building to have a height of 54 where the code has a height restriction of 35 feet. The Variance criteria are addressed below. The analysis associated with reconsidered criteria (5 & 6) is underlined.

A Variance may vary any requirement or regulation of Title 49 concerning dimensional and other design standards, but not those concerning the use of land or structures, housing density, lot coverage, or those establishing construction standards. A Variance may be granted after the prescribed hearing and after the Board of Adjustment has determined:

1. That the relaxation applied for or a lesser relaxation specified by the Board of Adjustment would give substantial relief to the owner of the property involved and be more consistent with justice to other property owners.

The relaxation applied for would allow the applicant to use the current design. The current design meets their program needs. It may in fact be difficult to accommodate a high quality auditorium which could accommodate 1,125 people within the 35-foot height limit. As such, the relaxation applied for would provide the applicant substantial relief.

The height of the structure could be lowered by eliminating features of the auditorium, such as the balcony or the mechanical room or the projection screen. This would make the project more consistent with justice provided to other property owners. However, it would not provide the applicant the desired effect or features of the auditorium proposed.

We find that this criterion is met.

2. That relief can be granted in such a fashion that the intent of this title will be observed and the public safety and welfare be preserved.

In summary, the intent of Title 49 is to ensure that growth and development is in accord with the values of Juneauís residents; to identify and secure the beneficial impacts of growth while minimizing the negative impacts; to ensure that future growth is of the appropriate type, design and location; to provide adequate open space for light and air; and to recognize the economic value of land and encourage its proper and beneficial use.

Height restrictions, as well as setbacks, support the intent of Title 49 by ensuring citizens a certain degree of access to light and air. It is possible that the proposed project will reduce the amount of sunlight the residential units across Glacier Highway receive. However, the section of the roof, which exceeds the height limit, is more than 340 feet from the residences across Glacier Highway. The amount of sun, which would be blocked, is not significant enough to consider that it limits access to light and air.

We find that this criterion is met.

3. That the authorization of the Variance will not injure nearby property.

The closest residential unit is located across Glacier Highway, minimally 340 feet away from the portion of the addition which exceeds the height limits. The authorization of the requested Variances will reduce the neighboring residentsí mountain view and availability of sunlight. However, as noted by the applicant, the proposed auditorium is aligned directly south of the existing multipurpose building. The disruption of the view plane is concentrated in one area rather than spread throughout the site. Additionally, the roof shape tapers as it goes up, so the impact lessens as it rises. These features and the distance between the residences and the addition mitigate the impacts to the neighbors.

We find that this criterion is met.

4. That the Variance does not authorize uses not allowed in the district involved.

The Variance will authorize the development of a church in the D-5 zoning district. The approval is subject to obtaining a Conditional Use permit. The applicant is currently in the review process for the conditional use permit.

We find that this criterion is met subject to approval of USE2001-00024.

  1. That compliance with the existing standards would:
  2. A. Unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property for a permissible principal use;

    No. The existing church is a principal permissible use of the property. As such, compliance would not prevent the lot from being used as it currently exists, or even with an addition.

    Yes. Adherence with the existing standards would unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property for a permissible principle use. While the 35 foot height limit for the D-5 district is based on residential applications, the table of permissible uses provides for the proposed use through the conditional use process. It is common for churches to exceed a height of 35 feet, however the code does not include increased dimensional standards to accompany the expanded array of uses provided for under the conditional use process. It is unreasonable to apply a residential based height standard to a church which is a permissible principle use.

    B. Unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property in a manner which is consistent as to scale, amenities, appearance or features, with existing development in the neighborhood of the subject property;

    No. Compliance may require the applicant to redesign the proposal and to possibly scale down the development. However, compliance would not unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property in a manner that is consistent as to scale, amenities and appearance with existing development in the neighborhood of the subject property. None of the lots in the surrounding area exceed the 35-foot height limit. Even the larger developments in the area, such as Fred Meyer, are within the height limit.

    Yes. Compliance with the existing standards would prevent the owner from utilizing the property in a manner which is consistent with existing development in the neighborhood. While the maximum height of the proposed sanctuary exceeds that of the Fred Meyer facility (located adjacent to and north of the subject property) the overall bulk, scale and average height of the structure would appear to be far less. For example the volume of the Fred Meyer structure is approximately 2,4 million cubic feet while the proposed Juneau Christian Center will total approximately 1.5 million cubic feet. The length of the Fred Meyer structure is approximately 491 feet while the Juneau Christian Center will be 440 feet. The average height of the Fred Meyer structure is approximately 27 feet while the average height of the Juneau Christian Center will be approximately 23 feet.

    C. Be unnecessarily burdensome because unique physical features of the property render compliance with the standards unreasonably expensive;

    No. There are no unique physical features associated with the property that render compliance with the standards unreasonably expensive. The lot is 11.45 acres and relatively flat. An alternative configuration of the development might prove to be more expensive. However, it is the applicantís design criteria, and not the property which is dictating the design and necessitates the Variance.

    Yes. While the property is quite large (approximately 11.45 acres), Three acres consist of jurisdictional wetlands (located along the eastern property line) and a vegetated perimeter buffer. The remaining 8.5 acres is occupied by the footprint of the existing structure, school playground and parking area. In addition the subject property is bordered on the north by Glacier Highway, on the south by Egan Drive and the west by Old Dairy Road. In order to utilize the interior of the parcel for structural development and the perimeter for parking and vegetated buffer, the applicant is proposing to construct a portion of the proposed sanctuary addition in excess of the 35 foot height limit. This is also considered by the applicant as the most cost effective method of providing the area and amenities desired for a successful proposal.

    or

    D. Because of pre-existing nonconforming conditions on the subject parcel the grant of the Variance would not result in a net decrease in overall compliance with the Land Use Code, CBJ Title 49, or the Building Code, CBJ Title 19, or both.

    No. There are no non-conforming conditions associated with this site.

    Because sub-criterion A., B., and C are satisfied we find that criterion 5. is met.

  3. That a grant of the Variance would result in more benefits than detriments to the neighborhood.

While the proposed facility may result in a benefit to the community, the Variance to the height standards will result in a detriment to the neighborhood. For the residents across Glacier Highway, the proposed project will reduce their views of the mountains and may possibly block the sun, when it is low in the sky. This impact is limited to only a few homes and is limited in nature due to the distance between the addition and the residences and the tapered design of the roof. However, for those residents which it does impact, the grant of the Variance will result in greater detrainments than benefits to the neighborhood.

We find that this criterion is not met.

The proposal will result in direct benefits to the congregation and other users of JCC facilities. Because of the modified design which lowers the maximum tower height from 65 to 54 feet and the overall height of the sanctuary addition to 49 feet, direct impacts to the 5 neighboring property owners has been reduced. In addition the elimination of existing points of access and establishment of a single commercial grade access from Glacier Highway to the parking area is anticipated to enhance safety and reduce traffic congestion. The maintenance of the vegetated buffer around the perimeter of the site is expected to effectively screen parking activity associated with services, school and events from neighboring residential properties.

Staff recommends that the Board of Adjustment adopt the staff analysis and the Directorís findings which conclude that the grounds for Variances are met and approve the requested Variance to allow a portion of a building to have a height of 54 feet where the code has a height restriction of 35 feet.