Wommack development receives final green light; concerns mount over impacts
by Rick Langenberg:
A nearly $100 million proposed mega ministry and educational development in Woodland Park, and one that could vastly change the character of the city, has leaped the final regulatory hurdle. As a result, the stage is set for construction to soon begin on the first phase of the Charis Bible College, initially calling for nearly 1,500 students and more than 150 housing units and a variety of related facilities on a 147-acre area off Hwy. 24 near Westwood Lakes.
The project would eventually showcase a spree of additional 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 student housing for 500 people and parking for about 550 vehicles.
Andrew Shares His Plan For The Sanctuary
( Click here to see Wommack Plan for Sanctuary http://www.awmi.net/jan2012_special )
By a unanimous vote, and with no dissenting opinions, the city council last week passed a variety of land use, zoning and development approvals that stamped the final okay on a project that has commanded discussion for months. However, the controversy surrounding the Andrew Wommack Ministries venture is far from over, with key leaders of the local fire protection district requesting a tax contribution of $80,000 to $100,000 a year to handle this large of a facility.
Otherwise, they say residents will have to pick up the tab for extra service levels, or the district’s insurance rating will be in jeopardy. “This is not being properly addressed,” said John Eden, board director for the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District. “The district is expected to provide fire protection service for an $87 million facility without offsetting these impacts.” He warned leaders this could crate large-scale “unintended consequences.” Both Eden and Tyler Lambert, chief of the Woodland Park Fire Department, requested a payment in lieu of taxes plan. They both stressed that Wommack Ministries isn’t the only culprit in this funding inequity that has big impacts on public service agencies. They have cited similar problems with several forthcoming projects proposed in the Downtown Development Authority district.
However, this idea was rejected by officials of Wommack Ministries, who cited their designation as a non-profit group, making it exempt from paying property taxes. Operations Manager Larry Bozeman stated that the group would do what it can to be a good neighbor, but has certain obligation to its donors. He also maintained that Wommack’s current facilities in Colorado Springs didn’t pose many problems from a fire and public safety perspective. He said they planned to equip the facility with a fire truck and have their own security team on campus.
Also, Wommack was backed up by city attorney Erin Smith, who stated that the council couldn’t legally deny the project because of this issue due to the fact that the city government doesn’t have a payment in lieu of taxes policy. Plus, several council members argued that the extra economic impact the project would create makes the risk worthwhile. “Overall, we will benefit,” said Councilman Bob Carlsen. But other leaders, while praising the project, expressed concerns about impacts for non-profit groups that rely on property tax revenue to survive. “If they don’t pay it, we will,” said Councilman Gary Brovetto. Following the approval of the Wommack project, Mayor Dave Turley stated that the community needs to come together to resolve this funding situation. “It puts us in a tough situation,” said Turley, who urged more discussions on this topic. However, no specific ideas were presented regarding how this inequity could get resolved.
No big concerns Other than the pleas of representatives of the Northeast Teller Fire Protection District, not many concerns were expressed regarding the plans of Wommack Ministries during the final hearing. The project has been in the works since last summer. Another resident, Amy Velimirovich, who lives near the proposed ministry, described the project as destructive to the small-town character of Woodland Park, with a facility that would exceed that of Wal-Mart. “I just thing think this is going to be a disaster,” said Velimirovich. She also stated that most of the supposed future jobs would not help local residents. But several other residents spoke highly of the development. Cathy Keeler, who is completing her education at Charis in Colorado Springs, stated that the project would provide many economic benefits. She also spoke highly of the students, saying they would bring a more positive element to the area. “They are highly creative,” said Keeler. Gold Hill Square Shopping Center developer Bill Page described the project as a potential boon for the area. “I think the college will add some stability to our community,” said Page. In deliberations by the council, the main concerns voiced dealt with project phasing and parking. Some leaders believe the project proponents should have more parking, especially when they do special events.
The group also has to abide by a laundry list of conditions. And in a slight compromise, Wommack Ministries has agreed to turn its proposed $20 million student housing project into a private venture, meaning that part of the project would get hit with property taxes. But according to the estimates of the Northeast Teller Fire Protection District, this would only provide $14,000 a year for these services, well short of the projected impacts. In the final analysis, the council described the project as a win-win for Woodland Park. They agreed it would definitely change the character of the town, but were enthused about the economic pluses. According to economic data provided by Summit Economics, a consultant for Wommack, the project would generate $122,235 in extra sales and use taxes for the city in 2014 and provide an annual payroll of $2.6 million. The group hopes to finalize its building plans in late June. Based on the timetable, the Charis College may open its doors for business, with an initial phase, in late 2013 or early 2014.