New Placerville Mayor Wendy Mattson was both supportive and stern in her remarks to Mercy Way Rescue Church before Placerville City Council’s 4-1 vote to approve a conditional use permit allowing the church to operate at 1750 Broadway in Placerville.
Mercy Way Rescue Church moved into the existing building on Broadway in 2012 as part of its mission to serve the homeless population. The former Greyhound bus station is located near the Upper Room Dining Hall, Treehouse Ministeries and the Community Resource Center and east of Hangtown Haven, all of which serve the homeless population of Placerville. MWR began serving as a check-in and pickup area for the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter, giving shelter guests a dry, warm place to wait for transportation to the shelter for the evening and providing counseling services and twice weekly church services and Bible study two evenings.
The site had most recently been used as a storage place for the Tijuana Taqueria restaurant next door and the change of use required a conditional use permit and a change of occupancy permit. City staff apprised the church of the need to apply for the CUP and the application was reviewed by the Placerville Planning Commission on Dec. 4. The Planning Commission split on its decision of whether to approve the CUP and according to bylaws, a split decision is considered a denial. Such a split decision denial is automatically referred to the City Council for decision.
Michael Webb, director of community development and engineering, said city staff was in agreement with the church’s use of the 968-square-foot facility and that the proposed conditions for the permit were adequate measures to keep the use of the site compatible with the surrounding area.
Two conditions of the permit were challenged by MWR: a condition that requires one parking space for every four seats in the church, and a condition that limited hours of operation to from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They also requested an exception to the permit fees and removal of a condition that did not allow overnight use of the church. Overnight use of the church was a confusing issue, as the applicant stated that the church needed to be open overnight for different activities, but some of the speakers for the church indicated that it would not be used overnight.
Speakers spoke both in support of MWR’s mission and against its location. Several commented on the need of the homeless for the spiritual services offered by the church, including Dr. Mary Maaga, one of the two pastors of MWR. “I’ve found a hunger for a new life in these people I’ve found in no other congregation.”
Judy Puthoff, who owns extensive property on Broadway and Main Street said, while she supports helping the homeless, that the council should look out for the rights of property and business owners in the area as well. “Everybody has rights,” she said. “I’ve spent thousands of dollars on security guards to protect my property and my tenants.”
Michael Favor, a volunteer attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute said the Institute was interested in the case and asked that the 20-person occupancy restriction be waived.
“Would you turn away people because there isn’t enough parking?” asked Favor. He also asked that the restrictions on hours of operation, set out of concern about pedestrian traffic on Broadway, be removed. “Do you ask people at the nearby bar to go home because it gets dark?”
“The crux of the issue tonight is not how this council feels about Mercy Way Rescue as a church,” began Mattson during Council discussion. “The issue is ensuring that Mercy Way Rescue meets the current use and building codes of the property that any other entity would be asked to meet.”
“We need to make sure we are dealing with the actual use of the property, not just the stated intentions of MWR,” said Mattson. She cited specific instances in the city’s prior dealings with MWR in which the church defied requests from the city, including a request to move its feeding of the homeless out of Lumsden Park. The city finally closed the park.
“I applaud Mercy Way Rescue’s mission and goal …” said Mattson, “What I ask is that they deal with this council and this city from a standpoint of honesty and integrity.”
“Jesus himself said, ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’,” quoted Mattson, “As secular authority we have no desire to thwart the mission or work of Mercy Way Rescue, or of any church. We desire a cooperative relationship built on trust and, right now, we don’t have one. As good as your mission may be, it will get lost in your blatant disregard of this city.”
Councilman Carl Hagen made a lengthy motion to approve the church’s CUP, specifying the conditions the church must meet in accordance with city code, eliminating limitation of hours of operation as a condition, and stipulating that a new parking plan with restriping could create additional parking spaces that would, in turn, add additional occupancy for the church according to building code. “One parking space for each four seats is the building code for all churches and we don’t plan to treat Mercy Way Rescue differently than any other church.”
The motion also required the normal permit fees be paid. Councilwoman Carol Patton suggested a site plan review, lighting for the parking area and the removal of illegal signage, but those items were not added to the motion.
Mayor Mattson, Councilwoman Patty Borelli, Councilman Hagen and Councilwoman Trisha Wilkins voted approval of the CUP with Councilwoman Patton voting no.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.