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ARCHIVED  October 22, 1999

Mega-church plans move ahead

FORT COLLINS — Congregations at two Fort Collins evangelical churches plan to spend almost $25 million on the first phases of buildings that will be among the largest construction projects in Northern Colorado.

The region’s largest church was on the threshold of final approval from city planners this week, and will begin rising out of a cornfield off Timberline Road in the spring.

Members of Timberline Church, formerly known as the First Assembly of God, will spend about $14 million on the first phase of a long-term project that will eventually enclose 200,000 square feet and seat 2,500 for worship services.

Meanwhile, the Faith Evangelical Free Church soon will file plans with the city for a project on Shields Street south of Horsetooth Road calling for a $10 million, 71,000-square-foot church that will continue to grow by more than half in coming years.

Colorado Springs architect Gary Larson, whose credits include the sprawling Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs among more than 150 church-related projects, is designing both Fort Collins buildings.

“Think big,´ said Ted Shepard, who is coordinating the city’s work on Timberline’s plans. “Think really big. Think bigger than Lincoln Center.”

Timberline’s complex will ultimately include two twin sanctuary buildings, one with a sophisticated sound stage and theater-style seating to accommodate 2,500.

By comparison, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Collins seats 1,180, Greeley’s Union Colony Civic Center has 1,700 seats and the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs offers seating for 2,200.

In coming years, Timberline’s 33-acre site will house an assisted-living center for the elderly, a Christian school, a free-standing daycare center and athletic fields for baseball and soccer.

Church administrator Rev. Wally Weber said Timberline members were thirsting for the construction work to begin. The church will break ground in the spring, and open 12 to 14 months later.

“They’re anxious to go,” Weber said. “The question is no longer whether we build, but when will we get going.”

Timberline’s membership has grown from 125 in 1988 to an average weekend attendance of 2,700, Weber said. Church leaders two years ago gutted second-floor offices and a conference room to increase seating at their existing building at Stuart Street and Lemay Avenue.

Likewise, Faith Evangelical’s current location on West Drake Road lacks growing room.

“We’re landlocked here,” church administrator Rex Larson said. “We’ve done all we can with the space we have.” The church sits on a four-acre site, and owns three acres of parking across Drake Road. The 15-acre parcel for Faith Evangelical’s planned building more than doubles the space.

Timberline’s project was set for final Planning and Zoning Board review Oct. 21, after The Northern Colorado Business Report went to press.

City planners expected questions about the church’s request for more parking spaces at their new building than City Plan allows would take up most of the final session.

“That’s an issue for us,” Shepard said. “We have some real concerns.”

The plan includes space for about 900 cars in asphalt lots ringing the twin sanctuary buildings, more than one for each three seats in the church.

The project is being reviewed under land-use guidelines in effect before City Plan, the set of regulations guiding development in Fort Collins, went into effect. The old rules suggest five to 10 spaces per seat at churches, theaters and other gathering spots for crowds.

Church officials say that church members’ Sunday morning comings and goings require the additional space.

Church member John Sailer, whose construction firm will build Timberline and who has been the congregation’s point man in the city’s planning process, said he was prepared to defend the variance request.

“We have three services, back-to-back, a half-hour apart,” he said. “We’ll have in excess of 1,000 people there for each. With people arriving before others depart, we need that additional parking.”

If the variance is approved, the church likely will be required to plant tall, screening evergreens as a visual barrier between Timberline Road and the vast expanses of asphalt that will surround the church.

Timberline and the neighboring Rigden Farm mixed commercial and residential development will jointly contribute to the building of a 10-foot-wide concrete bike path linking Timberline Road to the Poudre River Trail a mile to the east.

The two will provide half the pathway cost, at the rate of $3 to $4 per square foot, as a condition of their development permits.

FORT COLLINS — Congregations at two Fort Collins evangelical churches plan to spend almost $25 million on the first phases of buildings that will be among the largest construction projects in Northern Colorado.

The region’s largest church was on the threshold of final approval from city planners this week, and will begin rising out of a cornfield off Timberline Road in the spring.

Members of Timberline Church, formerly known as the First Assembly of God, will spend about $14 million on the first phase of a long-term project that will eventually enclose 200,000 square feet and seat 2,500 for worship services.

Meanwhile, the…

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