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Applegate Christian Fellowship plan criticized

Applegate Christian Fellowship's proposal to fix a flood-prone creek constricted by years of expansion doesn't go far enough, nearby residents told a Jackson County hearings officer this week.

Over the past month I realized the church had done all this construction without permits, and this really caused me some heartburn, said Robert Trottman, who moved to Ruch with his wife and two children last August. Apparently they think they are above the law, or beyond the law.

Trottman, 43, and other residents voiced their concerns Monday before hearings officer Paul Nolte, who will make a decision March 17 on the church's proposal to remove fill dirt and move structures that have been erected in the floodplain.

Fellowship officials have not disputed that many of the structures were erected without permits. They hope the engineering plan will end the seven-year controversy. But they said they didn't want to comment until after the county passes judgment.

— We're hoping to draw as little attention as possible until after the decision is made, said Joe Stroble, facility manager for the church.

County officials are trying to find a way to correct years of expansion that has led to the shrinking of Forest Creek to a quarter of its original width.

Ali Turiel, county planning director, said the church's proposal appears to answer many of the county's questions about potential flooding in the creek.

One of the main points of contention with neighbors is an outdoor amphitheater used by church-goers during the warmer months. It was constructed in 1984-85 without a floodplain development permit.

Under the church's plan for creek renovation, the amphitheater would remain but a smaller children's amphitheater would be removed, along with fill used for the north side of a parking lot.

The 5,000-member church already has removed several other structures, many built without permits. County officials worry that structures could be washed away during a flood like one in 1997 that damaged the church's parking lot and children's play and instruction area and caused erosion around the main amphitheater.

In 2003, John Eads, another county hearings officer, ruled the church didn't provide enough information to prove structures weren't in the floodplain.

David Haight, fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the church's proposal satisfies state officials' concerns about riparian rehabilitation and setbacks.

The ODFW, which has met with church officials on several occasions to discuss their proposal, has not asked for the removal of the amphitheater. However, Haight said, If they were asking to build today, we wouldn't let them build in the setback area, he said. But it (the amphitheater) is already there.

Ellen Levine, chairwoman of the Greater Applegate Community Development Corp., said she still has concerns about where the creek channel used to be before they started messing with it.

She said her interpretation of Oregon law indicates that use of the amphitheater should be discontinued until the church meets all current rules and regulations.

Flood issues aside, Levine said the church isn't a good fit in the rural Applegate. It would be like turning the Ruch market into a Sam's or Wal-Mart, she said.

Other issues that local residents say haven't been addressed are the size of the church, the effect it has on local roads and the noise generated at the outdoor amphitheater.

Trottman, who said he wasn't aware of the popularity of the church before he purchased his property, said he doesn't have to leave the confines of his house to hear the Christian rock music playing at the church.

The walls in my house are made of 2-by-6s, with plenty of insulation and double-pane windows, he said. I have to raise my voice to talk to my wife and kids when they start playing.

The bus barn along Forest Creek, shown in the background of this 2001 of Applegate Christian Fellowship?s children?s amphitheater, has been moved. The amphitheater would be removed under Applegate?s plan to mitigate the effects of expansion on the creek.