Print Church, city blame each other for delays
Written by Greg Ruland   
Tuesday, 12 July 2011 00:00

River Community Fellowship Church members who want to start building a house of worship on property near the intersection of Willard Street and State Route 89A complained to Cottonwood officials May 18 the city is taking too long to complete its review of plans for the structure.

Scott Morgan, a staff member with the city of Cottonwood’s  engineering department, shows plans for the River Community Fellowship Church on Friday, July 1, at the proposed building site above State Route 89A, just below two of the city’s water tanks.It took the Cottonwood Engineering Department more than six months to finish its review of the building plans and compile a list of necessary corrections.

City officials say the time elapsed since plans were first submitted is not unusual and blamed the delay on the church.

Good relations between the church and the city are important because city workers routinely cross land owned by the church to maintain a city water tank and well.

The project, under discussion since 2007, began in earnest in 2009 after site plans for the new River Community Fellowship Church were sent to the Cottonwood Building Department. Building plans were submitted in December 2010.

Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder said the process was slowed because the church submitted plans before it had its engineer review them.

Another problem occurred when a church staff member using a backhoe damaged a water main while preparing the site and delayed reporting it to the city, interrupting service to customers and incurring costs for repair that were billed to the church. The accident could have resulted in criminal charges, Lueder said.

“Your church and the city of Cottonwood Utility Department have a close and mutually beneficial relationship based on trust and interdependence as cohabitants of the same hilltop in the center of town,” the city wrote in October 2009.

“Because of our close relationship, the city has no desire to pursue legal action at this time against your organization; however, this situation must never happen again,” the letter stated.

The church made the same mistake many nonprofit organizations make when relying on volunteer help to get a project done. Volunteers are not always the best qualified people, Lueder said.

The church hired a professional engineer in February, more than a year into the project, which helped the process move more quickly, he said.

The church’s engineer is currently making changes to the plan required by the city as of June 13 and may resubmit the plans as soon as the changes are made. Once approved, a building permit can be issued.

The church paid $2,400 for the review up-front and was charged another $3,000 by the city for the review and inspection.

The church needs a building before its current meeting place at Tavasci Elementary School closes, according to the May 18 letter from church Elder Terry Witte.

Since the property was purchased by the church, it granted an easement that allows the city to construct a sewer line needed to maintain a city-owned water tank’s arsenic removal system.

The church also granted temporary construction easements when requested and allowed large trucks access across its driveway to deliver arsenic filters to the water tank site when the easement it granted was found to be too narrow.

The church also allows city staff to use the church’s roadway to maintain the water tank.

During construction of the arsenic treatment system at the well, the city parked equipment and dumped dirt at the church site, but the church did not complain, according to Witte’s letter.

“We are at a point where we have spent a considerable amount of money and time trying to get a permit for our new church building,” Witte wrote.

“This is a real urgency, more than ever on our part, to get started. Our church of about 130 people meet at [Tavasci] and because of the recent closure we are not sure how much longer we can meet there,” he wrote.

Plans were under review until June 13, when the city’s Engineering Department listed items the church needs to address before the permit can be issued.