County provides way for lone church to expand

From the North County Times, Dave Downey, June 4, 2011

Even as Riverside County writes new rules to clarify what development will be permitted in Wine Country, it is processing an application for something that isn't allowed under the existing guidelines: a house of worship.

Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship is the lone church among the vineyards, having been given the green light to locate there in 1999 before the county barred religious institutions from its 5,185-acre vineyard zone.

The move kept other churches out. It also effectively blocked Calvary Chapel, which draws about 3,000 people on Sundays, from expanding.

The church tried to change the rules last year. Its bid fizzled after several heated Planning Commission meetings during the summer and fall.

But in November, while many county residents were tuned to the election, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors quietly adopted an ordinance that opened another door. Before the month had ended, Temecula Councilman Mike Naggar, who spoke on behalf of the church frequently at the planning meetings, had written a letter asking the county to invoke the new ordinance.

Before the measure's passage, a proposed development had to be on a list of acceptable projects to be considered by the county. Now, the head of the Planning Department can make exceptions by declaring that a project is similar to other land uses allowed in the zone for which it is proposed.

On Jan. 27, Planning Director Carolyn Syms Luna determined that the church's project was "substantially the same in character and intensity" as permitted land uses in the vineyard zone east of Temecula. That cleared the way for Calvary Chapel to formally apply for permission to expand, which it did on March 10.

The church wants to build a 50,000-square-foot auditorium, 32,000-square-foot school and 442-space parking lot on 23 acres next to its campus on Rancho California Road.

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