United States District Court, D. Nevada
PENTECOSTAL CHURCH OF GOD, a California entity, d/b/a GREAT LIFE CHURCH, and PASTOR LARRY SPIVEY, Petitioners/Plaintiffs,
DOUGLAS COUNTY AND ITS BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Respondents/Defendants.
R. HICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on Pentecostal Church of God
d/b/a Great Life Church and Pastor Larry Spivey's
(collectively, “Petitioners”) petition for
judicial review of the denial of a special use permit
application. ECF No. 27. Douglas County and the Board of
Commissioners' (collectively, “Respondents”)
filed an opposing brief, and Petitioners replied. ECF Nos.
28, 31. The court has fully considered the parties'
briefs as well as their oral arguments on March 19, 2018. ECF
No. 35. The court has now completed its judicial review of
the denial of the special use permit by Respondents and
affirms the Respondents' decision denying the permit.
matter arises from the denial of a special use-permit
application. See ECF No. 1. The Church applied for
the permit, seeking to build a church at 990 Riverview Drive
in Douglas County, Nevada. AR 3. The Church required a special
use permit because the property sits in a SFR-1
zone. AR 3, 18. The property is located in the
Gardnerville Ranchos community plan and is surrounded by four
existing streets. AR 3, 223.
public hearings were held regarding the application and the
related project. First, the Douglas County Planning
Commission (“the Planning Commission”) held a
public hearing in March 2016. See AR 53, 57. Then,
the Douglas County Board of Commissioners (“the
Board”) held a public hearing in May 2016. AR 73. The
court summarizes the testimony and the evidence presented at
each hearing in turn.
March 2016 Hearing Before the Planning Commission
March 2016 hearing, the Planning Commission staff recommended
approving the Church's application based on staff
members' findings that the project satisfied the relevant
Douglas County Codes (“DCC”). AR 5, 11-15. But
the Planning Commission staff recommended approving the
project only if certain conditions were imposed, including
limiting lighting to ensure compatibility with the
“dark sky” neighborhood and prohibiting on-street
parking. AR 57. Hope Sullivan, a Planning Commission staff
member, explained the project. AR 57-58. She stated, in part,
that any increased traffic would not negatively impact the
neighborhood. AR 57.
Shaffer testified after Sullivan. AR 57. Shaffer, a senior
project manager with Manhard Consulting, assisted the Church
in preparing its application. See AR 16-17. At the
March 2016 hearing, he explained the traffic impact would be
minimal, meaning a detailed traffic study was not
required. AR 57. He also testified that the Church
was willing to comply with the conditions suggested by the
Planning Commission. Id.
Spivey testified after Shaffer and agreed that any increase
in traffic would be minimal. AR 58. He also stated that he
had no intentions to expand the building in the future even
though he anticipated the congregation would grow.
Id. Pastor Spivey testified that he was willing to
accept the conditions suggested by the Planning Commission.
Id. He also agreed that the Church would not hold
late-night services if necessary to comply with the
Planning Commission then opened the hearing for public
comment. Id. Charlie Fecteau and Mary Ellen Padgett
testified in opposition to the project, stating on-street
parking would negatively impact their businesses. AR 59.
Janine Hamilton also opposed the project, stating it
conflicted with the master plan of the community which
prioritizes the development of land for community purposes.
Id. She stated that the project violated a master
plan policy, which serves “to protect the residential
neighborhoods from encroachment.” Id. The
remaining three public commenters-Heather Bodily, Jim Slade,
and Christine Hendrickson-voiced their concern over increased
the Planning Commission closed public commenting, Sullivan
spoke on behalf of the Planning Commission staff again.
Id. She explained that a traffic study was not
required because less than 80 peak-hour trips and less than
500 daily trips were projected as a result of the project.
Id. She also discussed the project design, stating
that a ten-foot-wide buffer would be placed on at least three
sides of the property. AR 60. And she testified that the
building would be limited to church activities. Id.
After Sullivan's testimony, Shaffer offered to conduct a
detailed traffic study and to place “No Parking”
signs on the street. Id. He also opined that the
project's landscaping would improve the property.
Frank Godecke and Commissioner James Beattie moved to grant
the Church a special use permit but the motion failed.
Id. Commissioner Bryan Davis and Commissioner James
Madsen then moved to deny the Church's application for
failure to meet two criteria under DCC § 20.604.060: (1)
the project would not be “compatible with and
preserve the character and integrity of adjacent
development and neighborhoods” despite the
“improvements or modifications [that would] mitigate
development related adverse impacts[, ]” DCC §
20.604.060(B); and (2) the project would “generate
pedestrian or vehicular traffic which will be hazardous or
conflict with the existing and anticipated traffic in the
neighborhood, ” DCC § 20.604.060(C). Id.
The motion carried, resulting in the denial of the
Church's application. Id. The Church appealed
the Planning Commission's decision to the Board.
See AR 65, 72.
May 2016 Hearing Before the Board
Board held a public hearing in May 2016. AR 73. In addition
to the testimony and the evidence obtained during the March
2016 hearing, the Board was provided with petitions in favor
of the project, petitions in opposition to the project,
public correspondence received after the March 2016 hearing,
and a complete traffic study conducted after the March 2016
hearing. AR 73, 168-94, 223. The public correspondence
included: (1) an email from Tom and Judy Doherty, opposing
the project based on concerns regarding traffic and the
nature of the neighborhood, AR 170; (2) an email from
Christine Mills, opposing the project based on traffic
concerns, AR 118; and (3) an email from Christine
Hendrickson, also opposing the project based on the existing
traffic and the increase in traffic that would result from
the project, AR 120. The authors of the emails all lived near
the at-issue property. AR 170, 118, 120.
Moss, the Community Development Director, spoke first. AR
216, 223-28. Moss began by describing the location and the
design of the project. AR 223-24. She stated that the
Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District did not
recommend approval of the project. AR 224. She also stated
that seventy-six residents demonstrated opposition to the
project by signing a petition. AR 224. But 250 people signed
a petition in favor of the project. AR 225.
summarized the concerns with the project as the following:
(1) increased traffic; (2) additional noise and lighting
problems; (3) issues resulting from on-street parking; (4) a
decrease in property values; and (5) negative impacts on
views from existing properties. AR 224-25.
then addressed different aspects of the project. AR 225. She
first explained the traffic study, which found that 183 daily
trips would occur on average on Sundays and that 46 daily
trips would occur on average during weekdays. AR 225. She
then described the planned landscaping, which would provide a
buffer to the parking lots and would decrease the noise and
visual impacts to the area. AR 225. She also stated that the
parking lot would contain 65 parking spaces, which met the
code requirements for a church and prevented the need for
on-street parking. AR 225-26. She explained that a
photometric survey for lighting would be required and would
ensure that the project did not create lighting issues. AR
226. And she finally described the design as one with
“residential character.” AR 226.
summarizing the information contained in the appeal, Moss
detailed the Planning Commission staff's earlier
recommendation to grant the permit, the Planning
Commission's reasons for denying the permit, and the
Planning Commission staff's current recommendation to
uphold the Planning Commission's decision to deny the
permit. AR 227-28.
Moss finished, Commissioner Steve Thayler explained that the
particular location of the project caused him concern, citing
to the “very[, ] very busy intersection” and the
increase in traffic. AR 231 (emphasizing his “big
concern is traffic” and “not … the
church” itself). And although the Board had not
finished hearing testimony, he concluded then that the
Planning Commission correctly determined the project would
fail to preserve the character of the neighborhood and would
result in increased traffic that would negatively impact the
neighborhood. AR 231-32.
testified next. AR 232. He first addressed the project's
impact on the character and integrity of the neighborhood. AR
232-37. He stated that the property would be difficult to
build upon due to being bounded by four streets and requiring
a substantial investment. AR 232- 34. But the Church could
improve the property through the proposed project, which
would result in the property being more consistent with the
neighborhood than it was at the time of the hearing based on
the residential-nature of the project's design. AR
232-34. Shaffer also stated that the parking lot would give
the Church sixty-five parking spaces-fifty more than what the
Church currently used. AR 234. Accordingly, on-street parking
would not be needed. AR 234. Shaffer also highlighted that
the building would not be the first church in the
neighborhood- seven other churches existed in a two-mile
radius from the property. AR 237.
then turned to the traffic issue. AR 237-41. He explained
that a complete traffic study was not required for the
project. AR 239. But after the Planning Commission denied the
Church a permit, a full traffic study was completed. AR 240.
The study concluded that the project would result in a level
A or level B service and would result in a 0.6 second delay to
the current time a person waits at the nearby intersection.
AR 240. Shaffer also stated that signage and road markings
would help prevent on-street parking and negative traffic
impact. AR 241.
Shaffer finished his presentation, Commissioner Nancy
McDermid asked Moss if the Planning Commission's concerns
had been addressed. ...