A Minneapolis church looking to expand is interested in a large vacant property in Blaine along Interstate 35W.
Great Grace Assembly of God Church is eyeing a 4.84-acre property at 9240 West I-35W Service Drive for a new 18,483-square-foot church that could seat about 400 people in its sanctuary.
Church services would be held on Sunday mornings. During the week there would be prayer services on Wednesday mornings and Friday evenings. There is no day care planned for this church at this time.
Several neighbors during a Jan. 10 public hearing expressed disappointment in losing a heavily wooded lot that shields them from the noise and lights of I-35W. Other key concerns were increased traffic on 93rd Avenue, the impact on wildlife and that the city does not have a wider radius of notifying neighbors of projects such as these.
“We have a slice of heaven. We have natures and trees and a peaceful neighborhood. This is going to destroy that,” Pat Flaherty said.
Chris Heinze said when he bought the home in this neighborhood 11 years ago, he saw that this property was zoned residential and expected it someday would get more homes built on it.
That would be his preference as opposed to a church that would have a 139-stall parking lot that he said would eliminate the trees that shield properties from the noise and lights of the freeway. He told the Blaine Planning Commission at the Jan. 10 hearing about seeing deer, fox and pheasants on his property and his belief that this wildlife would still come up to this property if more homes were built but not if a big parking lot went in.
“I am opposed to any development there that is not residential,” he said. “There’s hundreds if not thousands of trees that would be cut down.”
The Blaine Planning Commission recommended approval of the conditional use permit to allow this new church to be constructed. The Blaine City Council votes on this CUP request at its Feb. 2 meeting.
Joe Ouellette, chairperson of the planning commission, told the concerned neighbors that wildlife impact is something the commission often hears whenever there is any type of development.
“The problem is we can’t deny a landowner or an applicant if they meet the requirements because it has trees or wildlife,” Ouellette said. “I was living next to sod farms that is now all types of houses. That’s part of what you have to put up with if you don’t own that piece of land.”
Shawn Kaye, an associate planner for the city of Blaine, said that many churches are on properties zoned for residential. Churches can be built as long as the council approves a CUP.
“I think a church that holds its services on a Sunday and a Wednesday would be a lot less traffic than a neighborhood being built in there,” Ouellette said.
Dennis Batty, the project’s architect, said they are maintaining many trees on the property, which includes wetland areas they cannot touch.
“Our intention is to maintain every single tree we possibly can,” he said. “We’re not cutting down thousands of trees. There are several dozen significant trees that are being cut down.”
Batty added that he designed the church to have a gable-style roof in order to keep the exterior walls at a lower height than if the building had a flat-roof that commercial, industrial and school buildings have.
“I think we designed the church in a way that it is a church that would fit into a residential neighborhood,” he said.
According to Batty, Great Grace Assembly of God Church currently averages about 175 people for its Sunday morning services, so the 400-seat sanctuary would give the church plenty of room for new members.
Safety of pedestrians and traffic along 93rd Avenue was another key talking point the neighbors want the city to address.
Although the church would only have a direct access to the I-35W Service Road, anyone wanting to go north on Radisson would need to take 93rd Avenue to Flanders Street to get to the traffic signal at Flanders Street and Radisson Road.
Larry Mickelson, who lives with his wife Janette on 93rd Avenue, said they see passenger vehicles as well as commercial vehicles from the industrial park.
“The construction of a high-volume site such as a church on the proposed site will only add additional traffic to a residential road ill-equipped to handle the additional traffic,” Larry Mickelson said in an email to the city.
There is an existing trail that goes by the property the church is looking to build on. Matt Ziebol said having the church and parking lot there “will affect the aesthetics and recreational value of that trail.” But he said the city should look at a new pedestrian trail along 93rd Avenue to make it safe for people to walk to this trail if a new church is being built.
“With increased traffic along 93rd, we need somewhere for people to walk safely,” he said.
Tom Scott, a project coordinator on Blaine’s city staff, told the planning commission that the new Blaine Traffic Commission being formed would be best suited to listen to requests like this.