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Hearing for Church Development Slated

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Posted: Friday, January 10, 2020 10:30 am | Updated: 3:13 pm, Mon Jan 13, 2020.

Sixteen acres of forest along Highway 18 may soon be transformed into a sprawling church if the San Bernardino Planning Commission approves a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The Planning Commission has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 23, at which time, a vote will determine whether or not the Church of the Woods Project gets built. 

Church of the Woods owns 27 acres of heavily-wooded forest along a stretch of Highway 18 between Bear Springs Road and Daley Canyon Road. Since the early 2000s, Church leaders have adamantly fought for the County’s approval to clear much of the property. In its place, the Church plans to construct a 41,037 sq. ft. assembly building, 54,000 sq. ft. sports field, sports courts, a two-story gymnatorium and a 300-space parking lot.

Opponents of the project have voiced concern about the potential impact this project will have on the environment. Some of their concerns include traffic flow, light and noise pollution, soil erosion and the disruption and destruction of wildlife.

The property is part of a wildlife corridor which, according to the 2019 Draft EIR, provides a suitable habitat for three special-status species in the region. These species include the Southern Rubber Boa, California Spotted Owl and San Bernardino Flying Squirrel. In addition to the special-status species, other animals like, deer, bears, raccoons, and coyotes use the corridor. 

The 2019 Draft EIR also references mandatory changes to Highway 18. The report stipulates the highway must be widened in order to address traffic flow at the site. An eastbound, left-turn lane and westbound deceleration/acceleration lane will be paved. 

Traffic signals will need to be installed as well. But the question of how many signals has been hotly debated. In a blog post on the Church of the Woods’ website www.Sonriseinthewoods.org, the group wrote, “The San Bernardino Planning and Traffic Division determined just one (traffic signal) will be necessary, and it will be a trip light.” 

However, Highway 18 is a state highway and therefore falls under state jurisdiction. This means the Church must consult with Caltrans. According to the 2019 Draft EIR issued by the County of San Bernardino, Caltrans will require the installation of a minimum of two traffic signals — one at the intersection of Bear Springs Road and Highway 18, the second at Pine Avenue and Highway 18. Likely, a third signal would be placed at the entrance to the Church of the Woods’ parking lot. By the time the project comes to completion, mountain residents could be facing eight new traffic signals, according to the 2019 Draft EIR. 

Before construction begins, the Church’s Final Environmental Impact Report must be approved by the County Planning Commission. If approved, members from the mountain communities can appeal the decision, at which point, the EIR will be brought before the County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors will then vote upon the decision. If they approve, then the project will commence. However, a lawsuit could be used to further delay any construction.

Additionally, the Church of the Woods Project hearing was scheduled by the County on the same day as the Point-in-Time Count. The count is used to determine how many homeless people are living in the mountain communities and affects funding to address homelessness. Due to the timing conflict, opposition leaders to the Church of the Woods project sent written requests to Supervisor Janice Rutherford, the County Land Use Services Planning Director Heidi Duron, and Contract Planner Tom Nievez. However, Duron declined to reschedule the hearing. 

The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Jan. 23 at 385 N. Arrowhead Avenue in San Bernardino. Time will be allotted for public comment.  Also, the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station will provide a live video feed of the hearing. 

The Sierra Club will hold a meeting to discuss the Church of the Woods Project on Monday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. It will take place at Saint Richard’s Episcopal Church at 28708 Highway 18 in Lake Arrowhead. The meeting is open to the public.

A meeting has been scheduled by citizens opposing the project for Sunday, Jan. 19 at the Twin Peaks Community Center. 

The Mountain News will take an in-depth look at the Church of the Woods Project in its Jan. 16 issue.

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