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Pentecostal Church of God v. Douglas County

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 2, 2018

PENTECOSTAL CHURCH OF GOD, a California entity, d/b/a GREAT LIFE CHURCH, and PASTOR LARRY SPIVEY, Petitioners/Plaintiffs,
v.
DOUGLAS COUNTY AND ITS BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Respondents/Defendants.

          ORDER

          LARRY R. HICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This 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.

         I.BACKGROUND

         This 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[1] 3. The Church required a special use permit because the property sits in a SFR-1 zone.[2] AR 3, 18. The property is located in the Gardnerville Ranchos community plan and is surrounded by four existing streets. AR 3, 223.

         Two 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.

         A. March 2016 Hearing Before the Planning Commission

         At the 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”).[3] 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.

         Keith 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.[4] AR 57. He also testified that the Church was willing to comply with the conditions suggested by the Planning Commission. Id.

         Pastor 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 conditions. Id.

         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 traffic. Id.

         After 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. Id.

         Commissioner 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.

         B. May 2016 Hearing Before the Board

         The 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.

         Mimi 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.

         Moss 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.

         Moss 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.

         After 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.

         After 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.

         Shaffer 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.

         Shaffer 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[5] 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.

         After Shaffer finished his presentation, Commissioner Nancy McDermid asked Moss if the Planning Commission's concerns had been addressed. ...


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