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Church is back in business

Appeals Court shoots down an attempt to halt construction ofa First Presbyterian Church building in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE ' The Friends of Jacksonville's attempts to block First Presbyterian Church's 18,163-square-foot expansion project were struck down by the Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

The court declined to hear the Friends' arguments against the city's issuance of a conditional use permit for the project. The decision clears the way for the church to build a new home on 10 acres adjacent to the Pheasant Meadows 40-home subdivision.

Now we're not talking about if a church is going to be built, we're talking about what it's going to look like, said Alan Harper, church attorney.

The community group and the church have argued their way through the Land Use Board of Appeals and the state Court of Appeals for the past three years.

— The congregation wants the new building because it has outgrown its present location, a 120-year-old historic building near downtown.

Friends has expressed concerns about access, traffic and noise and argued that the expansion in a residential neighborhood does not fit the city's comprehensive plan.

The Rev. Larry Jung, pastor of First Presbyterian, is on vacation and unavailable for comment on Wednesday's decision. Church secretary Kay Barry said legal arguments never shook her faith that the new church ultimately would be built.

In God's time, it will happen, she said.

At issue in the recent legal appeals: Friends' attorney Liam Sherlock said he relied on inaccurate information provided by the city that the deadline for appeal to LUBA was Feb. 3. The actual deadline was Jan. 28.

Sherlock said missing the filing deadline allowed Harper to file a successful motion to dismiss the Friends' case for untimely filing.

Public and private efforts failed to persuade the City Council to rescind and reinstate the church's conditional use permit, which would have created a new deadline.

Sherlock filed appeals claiming the city's refusal to allow new evidence into record created a separate timeline under LUBA rules with a later deadline.

Both LUBA and the Court of Appeals disagreed with Sherlock's arguments and ruled the Friends' motions were filed too late to be heard.

Sherlock said his reliance on the city's noticing error ultimately cost his clients their opportunity to be heard due to a legal technicality.

It's an involved case to be sure, Sherlock said on Wednesday. And one that has never gotten to be heard on its merits. If this church gets built, it will be without due process.

Friends spokeswoman Trish Bowcock said she was disappointed in the court's ruling.

She and Sherlock both say they are frustrated that substantive issues have been blocked from getting a fair hearing.

There are issues regarding safety: widths of streets and fire safety ordinances, said Bowcock. We're researching the safety issues.

City Councilman Bill Leep has argued against the project on the basis of land use criteria from its inception.

But Leep said it appears the project will move forward now that the church's permit is no longer held up in legal disputes.

That's probably the reality, he said. This isn't minimal adverse impact, but it's going to satisfy a lot of people locally and I can't stand in the way of that.

Bowcock said she is not willing to concede the issue.

She said her group is considering its options ' including an appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court ' but has not decided on a course of action.

It's going to be an ongoing issue in the city of Jacksonville and it will continue to be divisive, said Bowcock.

Barring further legal action, City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen said the church's permit will stand and the project will proceed to Jacksonville's Historical and Architectural Review Commission.

Church attorney John Hassen agreed.

We have an architect and an historical consultant working on our presentation for HARC, said Hassen.

Wyntergreen said getting on the HARC docket usually takes about two months.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail .