By Ryan Gueningsman
FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, WRIGHT COUNTY, MN A full house greeted the Franklin Township Board of Supervisors last Monday when the board considered a conditional use permit for Old Apostolic Lutheran Church.
After a lengthy discussion, the township board voted against recommending the conditional use permit for a church and cemetery on property on Wright County Road 13 on a split vote, with supervisors Chairman John Czanstkowski Sr. and DeWayne Bauman recommending the denial, and Mike Barfknecht in favor of the plan.
The matter was then on the agenda for the Thursday night meeting of the Wright County Planning Commission, which voted to grant the permit on a 5-1 vote.
The next steps for the church include completion of building plans, working with the Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District on drainage issues, and working with the highway department on access issues, according to the office of Wright County Planning and Zoning.
Franklin Township meeting
Jay Williamson and Greg Halling of Old Apostolic Lutheran Church were at the meeting, as were a large number of township residents. Czanstkowski asked those wishing to speak on the subject to limit comments to three minutes.
A presentation on the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church was given by Williamson, who said the church is part of a larger congregation throughout the United States that represents many walks of life.
He said there are 1,100 members of the Minnetonka church, with more than half that congregation living in the Watertown/Buffalo/Franklin Township area. The church has been active for 26 years, first in Hopkins, and now Minnetonka, he added.
A land search was begun by church officials about seven years ago when the congregation voted to build a second church location, according to Williamson. The 55-acre piece of land in Franklin Township became available via auction and the church purchased it. Halling said Wright County is one of the few counties that allows churches on land zoned agricultural, which is another reason the church focused on the area.
Williamson said of the property, 11 acres are wetland and 17 have trees. The church and cemetery usage would consume about 13 acres, and the remainder of the land would continue to be farmed. It was noted this land would not be sub-divided in the future.
One township resident noted he spoke with Wright County officials about the size of churches in the area, and said this amount of land seems like too much for a church.
It was noted Brighton Avenue, Buckingham, Ahern, and 95th Street are in tough shape and would be affected by traffic from a church in this location. It would lead to more dust control, grading, and expense to the township, the resident said. Safety and turn lanes were also a concern and the point of discussion several times throughout the night.
Church officials have met with the township board and neighbors of the property, seeking input, specifically on matters such as drainage and placement of the church on the property.
They noted the Wright County Soil and Water representatives have reviewed plans for the church and that there are not going to be more water issues than what presently exist. Church officials also noted support of the proposal from different business leaders and elected officials in Wright County, along with neighbors of current members who live in Franklin Township. It was noted there is opposition to the project, as well.
Williamson said the facility is a “Sunday-only” church and that it would not be used for church or Bible schools during the week. He said two times a year, there are three-day services. Later in the meeting, explanation was provided that no one stays at church overnight, but rather church-goers stay with people in the community. The church would be filled to capacity during these events.
Once per month, a meal would be served after church, and Williamson said everyone is welcome and that the church is open to the public.
He said the church congregation would be split and that about 500 people would attend church in Franklin Township in roughly 100 to 150 vehicles. Williamson said the church has volunteer maintenance staff and that these activities happen during the week.
The proposed church is 28,000 square feet, all on one level, with a seating capacity of 900. A caretaker’s residence would also be allowed, according to church officials.
A map showing the area and proposed entrance to the church was presented by Williamson and Halling. Church officials had spoken with Minnesota Department of Transportation representatives, who noted there may be only one entrance to the site, and that there must be 1,000 feet from each side of the entrance for sightlines.
Halling said he checked the classification of the road and confirmed the road can handle this church traffic. He said the church wants the same level of safety the township wants.
A drainage map was reviewed, with church officials indicating they would have all water going to a pond that would back up into a storage area by the road. Additional drainage discussion took place throughout the evening, including one resident’s concerns the parking lot would act as a “big funnel” and had concerns about the church building on the land.
A church member and township resident said Wright County is growing and that changes are happening. He said Delano is expanding into Franklin Township, and asked that if the township would rather have a church than a strip mall in the future. The resident also invited anyone to visit the church.
Another township resident asked about pumping stations for fire protection, and if one entrance to the property was enough for fire protection. Delano Fire Chief Bob Van Lith, who was in attendance for another agenda item, said this is a gray area.
Williamson said the church would love to have two entrances to the property, but was told it can only have one.
Other residents spoke regarding the conditional use permit proposal. The manager of Apple Jack Orchards said the business has hired seven children from this congregation and said they are great workers and a delight to have around.
Another resident said he feels this should be in a city location and not in the middle of the county. He said, if it were in a city, it could connect to city water and sewer.
Bauman said Franklin Township is 85 percent agricultural, and said he is not fond of putting a church in the middle of it. He asked church officials how much money is going to be invested in this property, versus finding a spot with city sewer and water.
Williamson said the church has a lot of excavators who will volunteer to do a majority of the work, but acknowledged additional costs and said no matter where the church locates, there are going to be costs.
Barfknecht viewed the largest issue with the proposal to be the water runoff and drainage tiles. Williamson said the church is more than willing to do what it can to ensure things are right for their neighbors.
Another resident questioned the zoning of the property, and does not understand how a structure like that, with the capacity proposed, can be an appropriate use for agricultural land. Czanstkowski said Wright County does allow this type of use on agricultural land, and said Wright County Planning and Zoning will make the final decision on granting the conditional use permit.
It was noted, from the township perspective, the township will lose tax base by giving up agricultural land.
Barfknecht said that when someone buys a piece of land, if it is zoned for what the buyer wants to do and if the rules are being followed, the landowner should not be told what he or she can or cannot do with the land.
A resident asked if the conditional use permit is for the entire acreage of the land, and Czanstkowski explained the permit goes with the property unless there is a subdivision, so it would be for the entire property.
Answering a resident’s question, Halling said Old Apostolic Lutheran Church has had a conditional use permit in Minnetonka for 27 years and has not had one complaint.
Czanstkowski said the church would be great, but does not feel this is the right location. He made a motion to not approve the conditional use permit for Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, with Bauman providing a second to the motion. The action passed 2-1 and no further discussion took place during the meeting regarding the matter.
Halling asked for the reasons the township is recommending denial be written for them for the meeting at Wright County Oct. 10. Bauman and Czanstkowski said they would provide that to the church officials.