Showdown set for $45 million Ministry Development

by Rick Langenberg

Bring your sleeping bags to city hall Thursday (Sept. 22) evening for what could emerge as Woodland Park’s most contentious development fight in nearly seven years.

In fact, if you attend, you may want to want to make plans for an early morning breakfast at the Hungry Bear or a post-sunrise coffee break at Starbucks.

After months of speculation and preliminary debates, show time has finally arrived for the Andrew Wommack Ministries group and their bid for constructing a 3,000-student bible College and a spree of religious and educational pursuits, including a 2,500-seat auditorium, a 3,500-square-foot amphitheater a pavilion, a gate house, many recreational facilities and 12 buildings for housing 500 people. And that’s just for the first phase.

But in order to move dirt on the 147-acre site, located at the west edge of Woodland Park, the international group that operates offices across the world and maintains a high profile among Christian media outlets, must receive the go-ahead of elected leaders for key land use changes. More specifically, Wommack Ministries must obtain a planned unit development designation and receive the okay for its preliminary development plans in order to proceed with its ambitious $45 million-plus project.

This Thursday, the Andrew Wommack Ministries’ development proposals go before the Woodland Park Planning Commission. According to city planner Scott Woodford, the staff has already tentatively planned two commission meetings to decide the fate of this rezoning and development plan request. The majority of this property is currently zoned for agricultural use.

The Wommack Ministries group has already scaled a key hurdle in getting its entire property annexed into the city of Woodland Park

However, the Sept. 22 meeting will mark the first time details of the group’s actual project, capped by “The Sanctuary” facility, will get scrutinized. “The Sanctuary” is a proposed 217,000-square-foot building with an auditorium, classrooms, offices, technological services, a call center, meeting spaces, a banquet hall and support areas. To date, specific details of the project haven’t come forward, other than a brief conceptual overview. Wommack representatives have briefly announced intentions to open up its bible college in early 2014 in Woodland Park, with 572 students and expectations for gradual growth until it reaches a 3,000-student limit.

Wommack Ministries, though, may not exactly face a friendly congregation during Thursday’s meeting. Their plans have ignited a storm of opposition from nearby neighbors, residents and even a few influential community leaders, such as Mayor Steve Randolph. They argue the project would seriously endanger the small town mountain character of Woodland Park. “I don’t think you can mitigate character,” said Randolph, who has consistently opposed the development at previous meetings. Nearby residents are outraged over the extent of the project, and say it will ruin the area.

Plus, with the group’s nonprofit status, critics argue that local tax districts will get ripped off and question if Woodland Park has enough resources to service the development.

However, Wommack Ministries has plenty of local supporters, who see the project as a big economic boon for the area. The Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce has backed the venture, along with other key financial leaders. The group, in describing their overall project, estimate the development and property improvements will cost $45 million and will produce big increases in sales taxes and local services and offer a boom for local tourism.

Plus, proponents of the project say Wommack Ministries is committed to becoming a great neighbor. “Extensive efforts and costs have been expended and will be incurred in the completion of this development plan which mitigates adverse impacts and maintains the small mountain town feel of this community,” stated the group in a description of the overall project. Moreover, Wommack representatives stress that their project adheres with Woodland Park’s comprehensive, updated master plan, “which integrates mixed uses while providing a unique experience that benefits the surrounding neighborhood.”

The Wommack project has been well-received by the city staff, who are recommending the approval of the land use changes and the group’s preliminary development plans. The city’s planning staff, in a detailed report, is requesting the planning commission grant the project designation as a planned unit development district and accept the group’s preliminary development plans.

And probably the most significant staff endorsement, Utilities Director Jim Schultz has given the okay. “The proposed Wommack project would be a significant user of the city’s water and wastewater services, but the city definitely has the capacity to serve the project as proposed in their (Planned Unit Development/Planned Business Development) preliminary development plan,” concluded Schultz.

In a previous meeting, Schultz said the project would pose a big impact on the town’s available water for commercial development, but that the city does have enough H2O resources to support the bible college as long as the city doesn’t have to deal with several similar-type facilities.

That said, city officials concede the upcoming hearing will generate much public comment. As a result, no one is hedging any wagers on the commission making a decision on Sept. 22.

Regardless of the outcome of this hearing, the Andrew Wommack group still has a long way to go before clearing all local hurdles. The ministry group’s pursuits will go before the city council in November at the earliest. In fact, based on various approvals required, Wommack Ministries might not receive the final green light until February 2012.