Lookout Mountain residents fighting expansion of a church along a scenic byway won a victory in court Wednesday.
Jefferson County Chief District Court Judge Stephen Munsinger vacated the Board of County Commissioners' March 2012 approval of a special-use permit for Activation Ministry International.
The permit would have allowed the church of 300 to 400 people to expand its roughly 9,000-square-foot building into a regional mission center more than three times larger.
Area residents opposed AMI's expansion because, they said, the estimated increase in traffic of 666 trips each Sunday would create congestion, hazards and slow responses by firefighters and ambulance crews.
Lookout Mountain, 20 miles west of Denver, sees heavy tourist and bike use along the 40-mile Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway — the two-lane road that winds through several subdivisions to the Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave, Lookout Mountain Nature Center and other tourist attractions. The famous route has been a stage in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The judge agreed with the plaintiffs in the case, Lookout Mountain Residents United, that the county didn't follow the area's comprehensive master plan in its review of AMI's application for a special-use permit.
The judge said the church currently exists as a legal non-conforming use — meaning it's allowed even though the residential area isn't zoned for it. There's no authority in the zoning resolution or elsewhere that allows the church to expand through a special-use process, the judge wrote.
County commissioners and AMI argued that the church was converted to a legal conforming use last year. The judge said the defendants didn't provide any authority for such a conversion.
As a result, he wrote, the church cannot expand until commissioners either adopt new regulations permitting expansion or conversion — or until the property is rezoned.
"Let's hope the biggest part of this battle is won and, more importantly, let's stay united in our support of preserving the historical and community character of Lookout Mountain," LMRU said in a statement Wednesday night.
County commissioners were out of town Thursday and not available for comment. Jefferson County Attorney Ellen Wakeman said the office would review the judge's technical interpretation of its regulations with commissioners to determine a course of action.
AMI didn't return calls Thursday.
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