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CHURCH HITS ENVIRONMENTAL BARRIER\Heritage oak faces ax for building.

Byline: Sherry Joe Crosby Daily News Staff Writer

Plans to build a church in a tree-studded canyon have hit a snag with environmentalists who are fighting the removal of 45 oaks, including a heritage oak that could be 300 years old.

Faith Community Church is seeking a conditional use permit to build a sanctuary and two school buildings on 23 acres on Meadowridge Drive, west of San Fernando Road.

Plans call for removing one heritage oak and encroaching on another. Heritage oaks measure at least 108 inches in circumference and have exceptional historic, aesthetic or environmental qualities.

"We want to see if there's a better way to accommodate the design to the site," said Lynne Plambeck, first vice president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment.

But church officials said they already have redesigned the site to save as many oaks as possible. Sparing the two heritage oaks would mean the removal of three other oaks, said Pastor Craig Williams. The church moved one of the buildings on its blueprints to save 33 trees.

"We really are concerned about oaks," he said. "Our whole approach is to be protective of natural oak trees and provide a usable facility where we can grow and serve our community."

The project, which faces a vote by the city Planning Commission, is scheduled for a public hearing in April.

If it gains approval, the church would build the project, including a 200-space parking lot, on five acres. The remaining 18 acres, including 255 of the site's 300 oaks, would be placed in a conservancy.

The first phase calls for an 800-seat sanctuary and a 10,000-square-foot classroom for adult religious classes. Under the second phase, the church would build a 10,000-square-foot preschool and elementary school.

To make room for the buildings, the church would need to grade hillsides and remove 12 eucalyptus trees.

Williams said the 500-member Protestant congregation desperately needs more space. The church has looked at 40 sites during its yearlong search for larger quarters. Space is at such a premium at its Golden Triangle Road location that it has been holding three services each Sunday since September to accommodate members.

It chose the Meadowridge Drive site, adjacent to an apartment complex, because of its price, location and size.

"We were able to negotiate a price that we could afford and we'll have minimal impact on those around us," Williams said.

Environmentalists said they want to work with church officials to save as many trees as possible.

"Our oaks are very important and very special," said Cynthia Neal-Harris of the Santa Clarita Oak Conservancy, which seeks to protect oaks. She added, "We always celebrate a church coming into the community, but we always want to do it in a nonthreatening way."

Said Plambeck, "The trees are both the roots of our heritage and resources. They were food to the Indians. It's not that they're just beautiful trees. So many have been here since the Spaniards and for fairly frivolous reasons they get cut down."

Williams said he and other church members agree with the activists.

"We're trying to save as many oaks as we can," he said, adding, "We're concerned about saving as many trees as possible and meeting the needs of the congregation and the community."

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Photo (color) Pastor Craig Miller of Faith Community Church stands on land where many oak trees will be preserved despite new church buildings. John Lazar/Special to the Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 26, 1996
Words:580
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