Church Project Raises Debate Over Aesthetics

Church of the Woods submitted to the County of San Bernardino a Draft Revised Environmental Impact Report (DREIR) to address areas of controversy and issues to be resolved for its proposed project in Rimforest at the intersection of State Highway 18 and Daley Canyon Road. The report also includes the church’s choice among alternatives, and whether and how to mitigate the significant effects.

The church campus would include an assembly and children’s ministry building, a youth center gymnatorium, a maintenance building and caretaker unit, a 600-seat worship center, various recreational fields and facilities, and parking. The facilities would be developed on approximately 13.6 acres of a 27.12-acre property.

One of the first issues addressed is the aesthetics of the project.

According to the DREIR, “The County of San Bernardino General Plan does not designate any scenic vistas. Additionally, the Project site does not contain any designated scenic vistas. Moreover, views of the Project would be limited due to the dense tree cover that characterizes the Project site.”

Based on that statement, the DREIR concludes that no mitigation is required and impact will be “less than significant.”

The church addressed a second aspect of the project’s aesthetic issues by stating, “The Project site does not contain any roadways or vista points that provide vistas of undisturbed natural areas. No unique or unusual features occur on the Project site that comprise a dominant part of the viewshed. Additionally, the Caltrans Scenic Highway Mapping System indicated that there are no officially designated State or County Scenic Highways in the vicinity of the Project site”

According to the DREIR, there would be a temporary change in the Project’s visual character during construction, but thereafter, all construction equipment would be removed from the site.

“The developed Project site would change from predominantly undisturbed forested land to a church campus with associated roadways, landscaping, recreational facilities, and infrastructure. The Project would alter views from the SR-18 corridor looking north. However, the Project would not result in substantial physical degradation of the existing visual character.”

The report concludes again that no mitigation is required and the project will have less-than-significant impact.

AUDUBON’S ANALYSIS

Audubon said the DREIR “overly diminishes the threshold for ‘scenic’ by ignoring the natural scenic integrity of a National Forest and the beauty of century-old oak trees and irreplaceable conifers that comprise a forested landscape.”

Audubon added the DREIR tends to dismiss rather than evaluate the issues, citing as an example that the authors’ unsupported opinion that forested slopes are not an aspect of scenic criteria. Audubon points out that “clear-cutting and leveling the entire 14-acre area abutting the scenic highway and substituting buildings and artificial landscaping would constitute a “significant” impact to the scenic resources of the county’s premier National Forest.

Describing the project as a “massive urban development,” Audubon said the existing viewshed of the project site would suffer a “major unmitigated loss of scenic attributes.” Instead of the church’s “less-than-significant impact” conclusion, Audubon said, “The impact should be disclosed as significant in the DREIR and realistic mitigation proposed.”

SAVE OUR FOREST ASSOCIATION

At the Municipal Advisory Council meeting on March 7, Dr. Hugh Bialecki, president of SOFA, said the church project is bordered on three sides by the National Forest, Daley Canyon and State Highway 18. The 107-mile scenic byway “runs through naturally beautiful areas, snow covered forests, cool climate, a lush green forest and an island of mountains. The forest provides a needed escape from urbanization. It is a recreational area renowned throughout Southern California, the state and the world.”

However, Bialecki added, “Nothing in the DREIR describes what the buildings will look like. The ‘photo’ shows foliage, which is misleading because Caltrans will not allow such foliage there along the highway.”

SAVE THE DOGWOODS

Another environmental advocate noted that the DREIR fails to mention the dogwood community that thrives along the stream bed. Those distinctive natural features will be threatened along with the area’s wetlands when the site’s slopes are leveled to accommodate the buildings of the church campus.

The construction contractor for the project was unavailable for comment prior to publication.

Heidi Fron can be reached at hfron@mountain-news.com.