Saturday, June 2, 2001

Waikele residents
seek limits on
operation of
proposed church

They say unlimited hours and
parking would strain the
soon-to-be busy area

By Mary Adamski

Neighbors asked the city to set limits on parking and hours of operation for a Central Oahu church that plans to build a two-story sanctuary building and day-care facility in a residential area of Waikele.

Their testimony came at a Department of Planning and Permitting hearing yesterday on an application by Grace Bible Church West Oahu for worship space that will seat 1,100 people and a preschool for 90 children. The $8 million complex will be built on 3.3 acres at Pakela and Kukula streets, in a subdivision mauka of the Waikele golf course.

map The church pastor balked at a potential limitation on the church hours of operation as a violation of the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

"We're not necessarily in opposition to a church in the neighborhood," said nearby resident Eleanor Matsunaga. "If a church wants to be a good neighbor, it would not mind restrictions."

She said with the nearby Waikele Elementary School going to a year-round schedule next year, and the opening of the Central Oahu Regional Park this summer, the combined impact on traffic in the residential area "would wipe us out."

John Merriman, whose Maiau Street home is 70 feet from a planned building, urged the city to set conditions on the project "to limit its impact on residents." He also asserted that he and his wife "are not in opposition to a church. Of all possible facilities that could go here, the happiest is a church." Both he and Matsunaga cited concerns about the noise and traffic problems that would be generated by hundreds of people using the church and school.

It is the second time the Rev. Sidney Sumida and his congregation have attempted the building project. In the face of significant neighborhood opposition in 1996, the city imposed 15 conditions, including a requirement for additional on-site parking, which sent the church back to the drawing board.

The city also set limits on the hours of operation, requiring closing by 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 p.m. weekends.

"I challenged that as a violation of our religious freedom," Sumida said. "We hear about government legislating against prayer in public schools. This would be giving the government power to legislate prayer in church." Sumida said he met with the city for 112 years and won an extension to 10 p.m.

"They said if we want to challenge the constitutionality, it would have to be done in court," Sumida said.

Unlike the previous run, this time there were only four opponents, with two written objections in addition to the two who testified. The Waipahu Neighborhood Board gave its approval provided the church addresses neighborhood concerns.

Assistant Pastor Kevin Asano said the congregation has "kept open communications with the neighborhood and worked to build a relationship, so it's not us against them." The congregation of about 225 people now meets Sundays at Waipahu Elementary School.

Plans call for building in two phases, with construction to begin next year on the first building of 26,616 square feet with a 360-seat sanctuary and classrooms for 90 children. A second building of 37,816 square feet, with a 750-seat assembly area and offices, is slated for completion in 2008, Asano said. A total 214 parking places are planned, but an additional 88 could be accommodated with theater parking, Sumida said.

Hearing officer Eileen Mark said Friday is the deadline for written testimony to be submitted. The decision will be made by July 3 by department director Randall Fujiki.

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