After an hour of discussion that included questions from a few concerned neighbors, the Blaine City Council on Feb. 2 approved a conditional use permit for a new church off Interstate 35W.
Currently located along Central Avenue in Minneapolis, Great Grace Assembly of God Church is planning to re-locate to a 4.84-acre site at 9240 West I-35W Service Drive. Plans call for a a new 18,483-square-foot church that would include a sanctuary with a seating capacity of 400, according to Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer.
Attendance at Sunday morning services averages about 175 people, according to Yaw Obiri, a board member for the church. There are also prayer services on Wednesdays in the morning and evening.
Obiri, who has been with the church since 2003, said Great Grace was founded in 2000 but was part of the Park Assembly Church for 10 years before starting in its current location off Central Avenue in Minneapolis.
The church, whose senior pastor is Rev. Louis Oppong-Kyekyeku, is looking to build a larger church for future growth and the location in Blaine along 35W is ideal because congregation members come from all over the Twin Cities and the price of the land is lower than other sites they were looking at. With the council’s approval, Obiri said the church will continue fundraising so it can break ground as soon as possible.
“If the approval happens tonight and I think it’s going to happen, I’d be more than glad to come and help you with your opening ceremony,” Mayor Tom Ryan said. “At that point I’ll probably ask you somewhere in the future if we can do a polling place for elections there.”
Before the council gave its blessing to the new church, there was testimony to be taken from residents.
Pat Flaherty said he understands the neighborhood cannot dictate what is developed there since the land is owned by someone else, but he felt the city should have widened its notification circle beyond the standard 350 feet since there are large lots in this area.
“I think there’s a responsibility for the city to notify people,” he said.
At the end of the Feb. 2 council meeting, Council Member Dave Clark asked that the council have a workshop discussion on how the process the city goes through for notifying residents of any activity. The city at the prior council meeting came under fire for not notifying residents of a tree clearing project in the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary. City Manager Clark Arneson told the council there could be some time in March to discuss the city’s notification standards.
Flaherty said one of his main concerns, which was shared by other neighbors, is the loss of trees and wildlife habitat. He believed they could lose 1,000 trees.
Michael Batty, of The Dennis Batty & Associates Group, said the number of trees that will be cut down is 225 and not 1,000. He said the church must plant 67 new trees to meet the city’s landscaping requirements, so the net loss of trees would be 158.
Batty pointed out that a 75-foot buffer of trees between the walking path and church parking lot will be left alone along with a area on the north side of the church. There is an area on the west side of the church near the neighborhood where the city asked the developer to plant 20 more trees than originally proposed.
Batty took pictures along the trail to show the dense forest that would be left alone and offered to show the pictures during the meeting, which the council did not request him to do.
“You already have a hard time in the winter, if you look at the pictures, to see very far through trees that don’t have any green on them,” Batty said. “When it comes springtime, that’s going to double your coverage or more. It’s going to be much harder to see through.”
The city’s parking requirement for churches is one stall for every four seats in a sanctuary plus additional parking for staff. In this case, the city said Great Grace Assembly of God Church would need 115 spaces and its conditional use permit has 139 spaces.
Schafer said no parking is allowed along the 35W service road right next to the church. If there would be any parking concerns on 93rd Avenue in the future the council could post “no parking” signs.
“The parking on the site will be able to handle the congregation when the sanctuary is maxed out,” Batty said.