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Home of the Mega Church? City to weigh application for Westside Church expansion 

Bend's Westside is known for its mature ponderosa pines, quaint mill-era cottages, dirt alleys and boutique shops, and, depending on how a Bend hearings officer

Bend's Westside is known for its mature ponderosa pines, quaint mill-era cottages, dirt alleys and boutique shops, and, depending on how a Bend hearings officer rules on a pending application, possibly mega churches. The Church of Latter Day Saints has already staked out its claim on the Westside with its sprawling and largely treeless worship complex on Newport Avenue and Mt. Washington Dr.

Now Westside Church is eyeing a major expansion of its buildings and grounds just a few blocks east of the LDS property.

The cornerstone of the plan is a bid to increase the church's "worship center" seating capacity from roughly 800 persons to 1,300 persons. The church also plans to expand other areas of the building, including the administration area and a new "children's ministry" area. At the same time it's also seeking approval to remove a designated park site from their property in order to develop a roughly 16,000-square-foot childcare and preschool facility. According to the church, the preschool would operate five days a week with two sessions and 49 children in each.

The plan has sparked backlash among some neighbors in the otherwise residential area who cite concerns about parking and traffic related to the expansion.

"It looks like an amphitheater," said neighbor Barksdale Brown, who opposes the church's expansion as incompatible with the residential feel of the neighborhood.

"It's how you would design a symphony hall," he said.

The city is set to send Westside's application to a hearing's officer later this week and public hearings have been set for May 8 and May 13, based on a request for continuance from Westside Church.

But planning staff has already recommended that the hearings officer grant the church's request for a text amendment, which would clear the way for the preschool application.

As of Tuesday evening city staff had not yet wrapped up work on the report regarding the larger application for the church expansion and preschool, said Cheryl Dix, associate planner.

That report should be finished before the end of the week and will be available at city hall and should also be downloadable at the city's website: ci.bend.or.us. In the meantime, she confirmed that the church had indicated that it plans to go beyond the minimum parking requirement for the site. Westside plans to provide about 448 spaces. The city requirement for the site is 333 spaces, she said. However, the church will have to convince the hearing's officer that it should be granted a height variance for the proposed expansion, which would reach 39 feet at its highest point - nine feet higher than allowed in the residential zone where the church sits.

If the church wins approval for its plans it would increase Westside's footprint from roughly 66,000 square feet to more than 136,000 square feet, including the pre-school building. Opponents have likened the resulting development to a Westside Wal-Mart. Neighbor Brown said the church is already beyond its parking capacity during weekend services. As a result churchgoers spill over into the neighboring residential areas in search of parking. But the real concern he said is that the church will try to use the auditorium for events beyond just worship services.

"I think that we would be naïve to assume that this (auditorium) would only be in operation on Saturday and Sunday morning," he said.

The public hearing for Westside's application is set for Tuesday 9 a.m. at City Hall. In the meantime, residents can submit comments to Cheryl Dix at cdix@ci.bend.or.us by referencing the application, 08-91.

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