Old Apostolic Lutheran Church got mixed results on Oct. 7 and Oct. 10 in its quest to build a church on 55 acres in Franklin Township at 8741 County Road 13 SE.
First, the Franklin Town Board on Oct. 7 voted 2-1 not to recommend approval of the conditional use permit needed to locate a church and cemetery in an agricultural zone. But the board did not have the final say. The Wright County Planning Commission did. The commission met on Oct. 10 and voted 5-1 to direct county staff to draft a resolution approving the conditional use permit.
Wright County Planning and Zoning Administrator Sean Riley explained after the meeting that the approval resolution will be consistent with direction from the Planning Commission. He also said the resolution will include conditions that the church will be required to follow. The commission is scheduled to review the final approval resolution on Nov. 14.
In Wright County, the planning commission has the final authority for approving conditional use permits, Riley said. Old Apostolic Lutheran will not need to go before the Wright County Board.
After Old Apostolic gets final approval of the conditional use permit in November, more permits will be required before grading and construction can start. They will revolve around items such as site and building plans, septic tanks and drainage.
Representatives of Old Apostolic Church have come before the Franklin Town Board a number of times about their desire to build in Franklin Township. On Oct. 7 Franklin Town Hall was filled with people interested in the issue.
Jay Williamson, of Old Apostolic, described the church’s current situation and plans. Old Apostolic has been active for 26 years, first in Hopkins and now in Minnetonka, where the church has 1,100 members. More than half of the congregation lives in the Watertown, Buffalo and Franklin Township area. Seven years ago the congregation voted to build a second church and began a land search. When a piece of land came up for auction in Wright County, the church bought it.
Greg Halling, of Old Apostolic, said Wright County is one of a few counties that allow churches to be located on agricultural land. This is one of the reasons the congregation focused its land search on Wright County. The 55-acre property includes 11 acres of wetland and 17 acres with trees. The church and cemetery would utilize another 13 acres. The remaining 14 acres are being farmed, and farming would continue there.
Church representatives have met with Wright County Soil and Water, neighbors and the town board to discuss drainage and the best way to situate the church on the property. The goal is to not add more water issues than have been happening in relation to the property.
Williamson described how Old Apostolic would use its new church. It would be a Sunday only church, and no school or Bible school usage would take place during the week. The church has no plans for amphitheaters, ball fields or courts.
Because Old Apostolic will have two churches, the Franklin Township congregation would number approximately 500 people with 100 to 150 cars. The church building would be 28,000 square feet all on one level with a cemetery. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has set a limit of one entrance to the church property.
Township residents spoke up from the audience. One speaker said 55 acres seemed like too much for a church and said surrounding roads are in tough shape. Increased traffic would mean more dust control, grading and expense for the township.
Other audience members asked about safety issues resulting from increased traffic, drainage and storm water run off. One speaker said that locating septic tanks near the peat area would create a problem. Another resident said the church should be in a city location where it can connect with city sewer and water — not out in the country.
Town Board Supervisor Mike Barfknecht said a property owner should not be told what to do with his land if it is zoned for what he wants to do and if he is following the rules.
Supervisor DeWayne Bauman said that Wright County is 85 percent agricultural. He was not fond of putting a church in the middle of it.
The Town Board voted to not recommend to the Wright County Planning Commission approval of the conditional use permit. Board Supervisor Barfknecht voted against the motion to not recommend. Board Chair John Czanstkowski Sr. and Board Supervisor Bauman were for the motion.
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