Dispute Resolved: Civilized Debate Prevails
On the evening of the same day that, as reported by the New York Times, “Dozens Arrested as Protests Over Rent Laws Get Rowdy”, the Fairview Town Council meeting of June 4 was dominated by a very civilized ongoing debate over the construction of the Faith Church of Collin County on a three-acre plot of land located in the middle of Ranchette Estates off Highway 5 and Murray Road.
The dispute erupted at the Council’s May 7th meeting when a public hearing to consider a request for approval of an ordinance for a revised Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the Faith Church of Collin County. The issue originated in 2014 when the Church filed a CUP for the construction of several campus-style buildings on land it had purchased in Fairview. It is important to know that the Faith Church had also suffered a series of setbacks stemming from its challenging financial condition that first forced it to use another church’s building, followed by its occupancy of several successive strip-mall store fronts, described by one parishioner as “just deplorable venues”. Church members are passionate about achieving their vision for a facility that would be their home “for a hundred years” that includes a sanctuary capable of seating 250 congregants, a large prayer garden flanked by an outdoor pavilion and a fellowship hall to be constructed in the next ten to fifteen years. Problems arose when the original plans that called for a sanctuary of just 30 feet in height were subsequently modified to 40 feet in height with the addition of a bell tower of 48 feet in height. Ranchette Estates residents pushed back hard on that proposal asserting that the scope of the revised project simply did not fit into the scale of the neighborhood. Ranchette Estates consists of single level ranch-style homes built in the 1970s and 1980s that residents say would be overwhelmed by the construction of such a massive main building.
The May 7 public hearing was continued until June 4 in order to allow the parties to try to resolve their differences. When Josh Hamilton, representing the Faith Church addressed the Town Council he reported that attempts to resolve the differences hadn’t yielded a solution. The Town Council Chamber was packed full of members of Faith Church and residents of Ranchette Estates. Those who spoke for or against the revised proposed CUP, without exception, prefaced their remarks with words of praise for their opponents. Residents of Ranchette Estates repeatedly asserted that they were excited to welcome the church members as new neighbors despite their opposition to the size and scale of the building project, while church members expressed praise for how residents were managing their concerns. A new wrinkle was introduced at the Council’s meeting when representatives of Ranchette Estates presented a petition to the Council signed by sixty-one residents of the community imploring the Council to reject the latest CUP proposal. They offered two alternative options that they said would satisfy their concerns: Either relocate the main building to a location on the plot that would not intrude so dramatically into the community or reduce the size of the main building from 40’ to 30’. By Texas State Law, the petition would require the Town Council to approve the proposal by a vote of a super majority of the Council, meaning six of seven members of the Council would be required to approve the revised plan.
At the end of almost two hours of back and forth debate, Josh Hamilton and the Pastor of Faith Church Gary Ester, yielded and stated that in order to reach a compromise they would voluntarily revise the size of the main sanctuary to a height of between 18 feet to 22 feet, even though this means, they said, “Eliminating the gymnasium and four classrooms but is the only viable resolution that we can imagine”. Council chambers rang with ongoing applause by advocates of both sides. The Town Council continued the hearing until its next meeting on July 8 in order to allow the parties to finalize the compromise solution. This all happened as dozens of New York residents protesting that state’s rent laws scuffled with each other and police resulting in dozens of arrests. Stark testimony to the fact that, at least in Fairview, disputes between neighbors can still be resolved civilly.
In other Council business:
· The newly-elected Mayor, Henry Lessner, was sworn into office by Town Secretary Tenitrus Bethel along with two newly-elected Council members Richard Doi and Charlie Henkle. Because of the runoff election that takes place on June 8 between Ken Logsdon and Craig Custer, incumbent Seat 5 council member Paul Hendricks remained in place.
· Richard Doi was appointed Mayor Pro-Tem by the new Mayor. Doi will stand in for Mayor Lessner when Lessner is unable to preside or represent the Town Council.
· A council committee chaired by Mayor Pro-Tem Doi, Charlie Henkle and Cynthia Brugge was appointed and will vet applicants for all boards and commissions and then recommend individuals to the full Town Council for appointment.
· With the approval of the May 4 Bond Election, Council discussed the next steps required to finalize the design and construction of a new Fire Station No. 1. It is anticipated that the design, pricing and bidding phases of the project might be completed in about eight months and construction might then begin in February 2020 lasting about one year.
· Because the normally scheduled next meeting of Council would take place during the week of Jul. 4, the next meeting of the Fairview Town Council will take place instead on Mon., Jul. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers at town hall.