Some people object to steeple in Coupeville

Coupeville will soon be the home of a new church, although a proposed steeple is still stirring controversy.

The Town Council approved a conditional use permit last Tuesday night that allows construction of a church on South Main Street near the town’s city limits.

Plans call for a new building between 2,500 and 2,700 square feet that will include a steeple and set aside the bulk of the property as open space. The building will be the new home of the Coupeville Unity Center for Positive Living.

Town Planner Larry Kwarsick said the town has received questions about the viability of a new church. However, the conditional use permit process doesn’t gauge the viability of the project.

He noted that the church will be built on three-quarters of an acre and the remaining three acres of the parcel will be set aside as open space. The property could have contained as many as seven houses.

“This is a fairly small church and fairly small impacts of traffic generation,” Kwarsick said.

Some residents were concerned about the protections placed on the bulk of the property.

Sheilagh Byler wanted church members to make a good faith effort to place a conservation easement on the open space. Several council members questioned the possibility of requiring an easement.

Stewart Woods, a board member for the Unity Center, said that members would work toward an easement. However, making it a requirement could destroy the financial incentive of a conservation easement.

“We think the area is beautiful as well. We want to be a plus, not a negative,” Woods said.

In the end, the council unanimously approved the conditional use permit. However, church members still have to get their designs approved by the Design Review Board.

Woods said the stickiest issue remaining is the proposed steeple. That issue came up during the Tuesday evening public hearing.

Byler said she was concerned that a steeple would damage the rural vista of Ebey’s Landing.

“Frankly, it gives me heartburn,” Byler said.

Woods disagreed, stating that a steeple is a common feature of churches.

“The hurdle we have is the steeple,” Woods acknowledged in an interview after the meeting.

Once the permits are approved, Woods said construction will begin shortly thereafter. He said the church owns the property and has money in the bank to pay for construction. A church member who died willed the money that made the new building possible.

The Unity Center is described as a Christian-based faith church focusing on the similarities of multiple traditions. The Coupeville congregation currently has about 30 members who worship Sunday nights at the Service Alternatives Building in Coupeville beginning at 5:30 p.m.

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