Woodland Park Planning Commission Recommends Approval of Charis Dormitory Amendment | Mail from Pikes Peak
WOODLAND PARK • A city council chamber filled with standing room for a special meeting of the Woodland Park Planning Commission on June 21st.
The committee heard a request to modify the proposed unit development/commercial development planned for the Charis Bible College property. Jon Romero submitted the plaintiff NES Inc. application on behalf of New Life Holding Corporation and its affiliated nonprofit organizations Charis Bible College and Andrew Wommack Ministries.
Romero requested that the planning commission recommend two articles for approval. The first was to change the height of the proposed bunkhouses from 35 feet to 45 feet to accommodate the topography and gable roofs recommended in city design standards. The buildings will remain at three floors.
Usually, these variance requests are made to the city’s board of adjustment, but not in the case of a planned unit development or a planned commercial development. Also, normally, an amendment to the PUD would be approved by the planning commission upfront. But changes to the dimensions of buildings constructed in PUDs require council approval.
Four of the five commissioners present in person and on Zoom agreed that changing the maximum building height to 45 feet was reasonable, given the terrain and city standards.
Commission Chairman Ken Hartsfield wanted to limit the change to just the North Dorm site because, he said, Romero did not present any information justifying the change for the South site.
The commissioners recommended approval by a vote of 4 to 1.
The second request to remove Condition 14 from the original PUD/PBD approval in 2012. It requires temporary student accommodation to be privatized so that it can be taxed separately from the rest of the property.
Condition 14 was created to help the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District cope with the additional growth imposed by Bible College. NETCO Fire Chief Tyler Lambert said 98% of the department’s funding comes from property taxes.
Bible College and Andrew Wommack Ministries are tax-exempt, but the fire department responds to all emergency calls, which Lambert says have increased with each expansion of the college. He added that although the department has the apparatus to fight a fire in a large building, it does not have the personnel. Between training, equipment and salaries, it costs about $80,000 a year to hire a firefighter, he said.
Department counsel, Andrew Nussbaum of Nussbaum Speir Gleason, said the considerations were irrelevant, illegal, unenforceable and unenforceable.
He cited the Constitution and laws of the United States and the Constitution of Colorado, which exempt all religious organizations from paying taxes.
“Wommack is not asking for special treatment, he is asking for the ministry’s constitutional rights,” Nussbaum said. “It also violates the RLUIPA (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act).”
The RLUIPA was signed into law by Congress in 2000. According to the United States Department of Justice, “the land use provisions of…the RLUIPA…protect individuals, places of worship and other institutions against discrimination in zoning and land use planning laws”.
Commissioner Carrol Harvey, who also served on the commission in 2012, said the privatization suggestion came from then-college representative Larry Bozeman. She also quoted Wommack in a 2011 article published in the Colorado Springs Independent in which he said he wanted privatization as a good neighbor.
“I read the minutes of that meeting differently,” Nussbaum said. “Tax revenue is not about land use. You don’t have the power to force the ministry to renounce its beliefs.
“We’re not asking him,” Harvey said. “The fire department is impacted because it’s not being helped by taxes from a very large entity.”
In the end, at the suggestion of City Attorney Nina Williams, commissioners voted 4 to 1 to send the issue of privatization to city council without a recommendation. They agreed that the tax and religious aspects of the matter were beyond their purview.
Williams pointed out that the statute of limitations for First Amendment cases has passed.
However, the commissioners decided to recommend retaining the wording of Condition 14 which would require dormitories to provide temporary accommodation for students and not permanent accommodation for staff and administrators.
During public comments, dozens of people, mostly Bible college students or staff, spoke in favor of both demands. In many cases, they asked the commissioners to approve student accommodation, but Harvey pointed out that student accommodation had already been approved. The commission only considered the size issue, she said.
This case is due to be heard by city council on July 21.