Pasco man blames city for proper hearing notification

PASCO — A Pasco man says the city failed to properly notify affected property owners about a Monday hearing on a permit for a church preschool.

The Pasco City Council hearing was on an appeal by Roger Lenk of a Planning Commission decision to approve a permit for the preschool. But Lenk said he and other neighbors of Faith Assembly Christian Center, which operates the preschool, did not receive notice of the hearing as the city is required to send.

The preschool, Imagination Studios, was opened five years ago, but the church only recently applied for a special permit the city requires for preschools and day care centers.

Gary Crutchfield, Pasco city manager, said Tuesday that Lenk is correct that the city didn’t send out notices as it should have. City code requires notifying landowners within 300 feet of an affected property.

However, Crutchfield said the meeting was a closed-record hearing, which means the city council could not take any additional comment on the issue. The council could only consider testimony given to the Planning Commission.

Lenk said he would have attended the city council meeting had he known about the hearing. “I’m offended that they don’t follow their own rules on closed-record hearings,” he said.

But Crutchfield said the preschool issue hasn’t been decided yet. The council returned the permit question to the commission to reconsider its findings after it was determined there are more students at the preschool than the application indicated.

A notice on that meeting, which will be held Feb. 18, will be sent out to neighboring property owners, he said.

The discrepancy in student numbers came when council members realized the church’s testimony in the record indicated the preschool has about 85 students, not 18.

Darrel Johnsen, lead pastor at Faith Assembly, explained the preschool started six years ago with 18 students, but has grown to 83.

When the state approved the original application for the preschool, there was a place where the city signed off on the application, Johnsen said. He said the church thought that was all the approval needed.

The state permit was for 18 students, Johnsen said. When the church recently discovered it needed a city permit, it applied for the current enrollment of 83.

Crutchfield said he wasn’t aware of the city signing off on the state permit. Part of the problem is when people apply for a state permit they aren’t notified if a city permit is also required, he said.

Lenk said he feels the church hasn’t followed conditions set when it did an expansion in 2002, such as not having a school and not using the site for large disruptive events.

“I would just like the church to act like a church,” he said.

Johnsen said the church agreed when it remodeled that it wouldn’t have a Christian school, and it still doesn’t. A preschool is different and has less impact on neighbors, he said.

On an average Sunday, Johnsen said, about 1,100 people attend morning services. Preschool traffic is much less in comparison, he said.

Lenk had asked the planning commission to require the church to notify neighbors of events on the church property. He also said the church holds disruptive events including loud outdoor concerts, motocross events, vehicle exhibitions, demolition derbies and overnight campouts.

Johnsen, however, said Lenk has misrepresented the church’s events. He said the church, which has 34 acres, holds an annual men’s conference for Washington and North Idaho Assembly of God members on one Friday and Saturday that has included car and motorcycle shows. He said there was a car crushing one year but it wasn’t a demolition derby.

Requiring neighbor notification of all church events wouldn’t work well, Johnsen said.

“The church is a good neighbor,” he said. “We are committed to our community.”

-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com