Eagle Brook Church has attempted since April to find a home in Corcoran for its west metro campus. Corcoran City Council actions on Sept. 24 left EBC leadership in a state of uncertainty.
City Councilor Brian Lother, who also is pastor of Hope Community Church in Corcoran, summed up thoughts of many speakers at the meeting before voting on EBC requests. “In my gut, I feel it’s the wrong location,” he said. He thought it was “not in the best interest” of the majority of residents in the area after listening to residents and contacting a local realtor.
Lother said he identified with what EBC is experiencing. However, he did not want to “have an island of ill will in the community.” And he was committed to working with EBC to find the right place.
He added, “The product is incredibly wonderful.”
CONCEPT PLAN CAUSED CONTROVERSY
In April, EBC asked the council for feedback on a concept plan for constructing a 70,000-square-feet edifice with a 1,500-seat worship auditorium in the northwest quadrant of Hackamore Road and County Road 101. The complex would sit on 27 acres in a single-family residential zone. Neighbors would be the Ravinia residential subdivision and residential subdivisions in Medina and Maple Grove.
Eagle Brook Church has a temporary location in Wayzata and permanent campuses in Anoka, Blaine, Lakeville, Lino Lakes, Rochester, Spring Lake Park, White Bear Lake and Woodbury. Before COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, a total of 22,000 worshipers attended services at all locations, and 13,000 watched services on-line, according to the EBC website.
After the April meeting, alarmed nearby residents gathered more than 600 signatures on a petition asking the city for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). Meanwhile EBC took its proposal to the Planning Commission, noted residents’ concerns and modified details accordingly.
Corcoran received notice about the EAW petition from the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board on Sept. 15, said Corcoran Planning Consultant Kendra Lindahl at the Sept. 24 City Council meeting. The petition and notice meant that Corcoran could not take official action on the Eagle Brook proposal until after the EAW question was resolved.
An EAW is required for a proposed structure designed at 200,000 square feet or larger and not allowed for a structure of less than 50,000 square feet, Lindahl said. Corcoran can exercise its discretion about ordering an EAW for a 70,000-square-foot structure.
She said the Eagle Brook EAW petition cited four primary concerns – wetlands, water quality and wildlife habitat; traffic congestion and safety implications; noise and erosion. All of these areas, except for wildlife, were addressed in the feasibility study and the development review process. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reviews wildlife issues.
Mayor Ron Thomas said he did not support ordering an EAW because all issues have been addressed. An EAW would serve no purpose.
City Councilor Jon Bottema, a former watershed district representative, said the watershed district has detailed rules pertaining to runoff that account for every single drop of water.
“Denying this (the EAW) doesn’t mean we don’t care,” he said. It means the proposal has been vetted through other significant processes. He agreed that it was not necessary for Corcoran to go through an EAW process.
After voting down the EAW, the council turned to EBC’s requests for approval of the site plan, conditional use permit and preliminary plat. Mayor Thomas opened a one-hour public comment period.
Several opponents pointed out that EBC would be located in a single-family residential zone in which a church would be a conditional use. They urged the council to conclude that EBC would not meet conditions pertaining to public welfare.
Some residents expressed concerns about increased traffic, safety hazards to children, having a big box size development near a large number of homes, topography making it impossible to adequately screen homes and declining property values.
Ravinia resident Sarah Jane Nichols said the building would be within 300 feet of her property line and a large parking lot would be within 100 feet of her property line. Trees screening her property from the campus would be cut down. She and husband Jeremy had declined to purchase property near Hy-Vee. Instead they chose Ravinia for privacy. With EBC as a neighbor, privacy would be gone.
Medina resident Robert Dovenberg said certain citizens made “extraordinary efforts” to find a way through “this bad situation.” They set out to find a solution that works for everyone. The citizens identified a suitable land parcel located away from the proposed site.
“We put together an investment group that provided solutions for existing land owners (at the originally proposed site) in the event Eagle Brook picked another location,” he said. They asked church leaders to sit with them to work something out on money they already have spent on development.
Dovenberg got the impression that EBC does not have a reason to seek another site because “nobody has told them ‘no.’” He urged the City Council to tell them “no.”
Several long-time EBC members said that once the inconvenience of construction is over with, area residents would discover that the church is a good neighbor. It is a steward of the land and plans to keep 60% of it as green space.
Brad Olson said EBC has groups that meet people wherever they are at – divorced, recovery groups, people struggling with marriages, addiction. They don’t meet on site. EBC is a great contributor to the community via food, Interfaith Outreach, polling stations and other community uses. The church’s core belief is to help the general population.
EBC Pastor Jason Strand said his church is the best-case scenario for neighbors. The church is quiet, with 10 people in the building during rush hour. Police tightly manage weekend traffic. Green space would make the campus a “great gateway to Corcoran.” Church programs help marriages, families and youth. Members would come to Corcoran and want to eat and buy gas.
Strand said EBC has looked at sites suggested by Dovenberg and others. None of them have worked out. And the church is committed to current landowners.
COUNCIL SAYS ‘NO’
Planning Consultant Lindahl said the proposed campus would be in an RSF-2 single-family zoning district in which a church would be a conditional use.
The City Council can deny the CUP if it concludes that all conditions of the permit have not been met, she said. However, staff has concluded that the preliminary plat meets ordinance requirements.
The council decided to follow the Planning Commission recommendation to deny the site plan and CUP while approving the preliminary plat.
Lindahl chuckled as she read the Planning Commission recommendation. She said that, without an approved site plan and CUP, approval of the preliminary plat is “somewhat meaningless.”
Mayor Thomas said he saw no way to reconcile concerns about the project. He would like to see Eagle Brook in Corcoran. Some locations could work out for them. Not this one.