Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pocatello Council Rejects Grace Lutheran


POCATELLO, Idaho -- The Pocatello City Council voted Thursday night to deny a request from Grace Lutheran Church to have a public hearing to change the zoning laws surrounding the former Ballard Medical building.

Around 245 people showed up in the city council chambers in support of Grace Lutheran's attempt to expand into a Christian high school and events center in the Ballard building.

They recited the pledge of allegiance, they prayed and they waited -- parents, Grace students and its administrators -- to see what the council would say.

But the council turned them down, with just one dissenting vote from council member Gary Moore.

Council member Roger Bray said granting the church a public hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Committee would take away from the council's ability and duty to make governing decisions.

He also said the zoning laws are in place for a reason, and breaking them would be a careless move.

But the city does make zoning exceptions from time to time, and Grace pastor Jonathan Dinger said in an interview before the meeting that he did not understand why they could not get a chance at one.

"Our lawyer has said to us, there is a legal argument they can make. They're not lying. It's a weak argument. The argument we have, our lawyer says, you've got the title deed in hand, is a tremendously strong argument," Dinger said.

"Zoning regulations are in place to protect property owners and that includes corporate property owners by preventing careless degradation or casual erosion of established areas by preserving them for ongoing specified use," said Bray.

"Because I am in favor of this project doesn't mean I don't support ON Semiconductor. It doesn't mean I don't support ISU," said Moore.

The support Grace got from the city came only in the form of the council saying how great of a value the church is to the community. Two council members who voted against Grace's proposal said they have children or grandchildren who go to the church's school.

After the meeting, Dinger said he was disappointed and wished he had more of a chance to argue the points the council members made against him.

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