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Church wins approval for outdoor worship area

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By Vicky Gits

The county commissioners have recommended approval of a special-use proposal for an outdoor amphitheater for about 200 on the grounds of First Baptist Church of Evergreen.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the plan on May 12.

The fabric-roofed, open-air structure would be on land at the base of a hill near the church on Troutdale Scenic Drive. The county’s planning commissioners agreed to allow outdoor amplification after planning commissioner Larry Anna said he would prefer no sound system be allowed.  

The proposal also allows the use of a temporary classroom building for two more years, but planning commissioners stressed the space was to be used for church-related classes and not to set up an elementary or high school.

The church has owned 25 acres on top of the ridge since 1979. The congregation consists of about 100 members, down from 200 a couple of years ago, when it was split.

A community meeting was held Sept. 8 on the proposal and was attended by about 12 people.

Church architect Eric Maule brought a rendering of the possible future structure consisting of four large rock pillars and a fabric roof. The seats of the amphitheater would be built into the facing slope.

“The structure in front of me is beautiful,” said Sharon Mowatt, president of the Troutdale Village Single-Family Homeowners Association. “It might be a little large, but I have no objection to it.”  

“I’m afraid the commissioners will approve a vague, overall plat. There are no specific drawings,” Mowatt said. She asked for reassurance that the church come back to neighbors when it has more specific plans.

After the meeting, she said she thought the church’s intentions were still somewhat “vague.” She said neighbors were mostly worried about the possibility of another school adding to traffic congestion at the corner of Evergreen Parkway and Troutdale Scenic Drive.

“I’m OK with it,” said Ken Carlson, who lives next door to the church. “They appear to have enough parking. They don’t abuse things. They don’t have much of a membership, but there’s always somebody coming and going.”  He said his main fear was that the church would put in a school.  “It seems like they are trying to blend into the community,” he said.

On behalf of the church, Maule said the congregation “was anxious to improve the outdoor amphitheater area.” He said it had been used for about 10 years, with pedestrian and vehicle access used periodically.

“We want to keep it natural. We are not really interested in building a building,” Maule said. As far as the classrooms are concerned, he said the church would be more likely to build an addition than to upgrade the temporary structure now on site.

Under the special-use permit, the temporary classroom building will have to be removed in two years, said Aaron McClean, a planner with Jefferson County.

He said the site for the worship area would be on the top of the hill in a clearing that is not visible from the drive.

Before building an outdoor worship area, the church will have to submit a site development plan, which is subject to the county zoning regulations but does not require a public hearing.