The future of a long-planned 13-acre church complex in the San Bernardino Mountains is in limbo.
On March 9, Superior Court Judge David Cohn ruled that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors had approved the project without an adequate environmental impact report, effectively stopping the project.
The Lake Arrowhead-based Church of the Woods had until late June to appeal the ruling, but let the deadline pass without doing so.
In 2003, the church proposed the Sonrise church campus complex and recreational development project, to be located at State Highway 18 and Daley Canyon Road in Rimforest. The project would have included a two-story assembly building, a two-story youth center, a ministry structure, a sports field, game courts and more.
The San Bernardino County Planning Commission approved the project without an environmental impact report. A report was later approved in 2011, but the church withdrew the project in the face of opposition.
A second version of the project was submitted in 2017. The county Planning Commission approved the project in January 2020 over objections from environmental groups. The Board of Supervisors denied the groups’ appeal in October 2020, but did not certify the report or officially approve the project.
A month later, in November 2020, environmental groups, including Save Our Forest Association, the local Sierra Club and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, sued. Plaintiffs accused the church and county of violating the California Environmental Quality Act and state planning and zoning law.
According to the environmentalists, the new environmental impact didn’t adequately look at the project’s impacts on wildlife, water quality, wildfire evacuations and scenic views, among other concerns. Among the wildlife the project could have impacted, according to them, were the California spotted owl, the San Bernardino flying squirrel, the southern rubber boa, Andrew’s marble butterfly, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, yellow warbler, American badger and ringtail.
Finally, earlier this year, Cohn agreed with the environmental groups that the project’s environmental report was inadequate, setting aside both the approval of the report and all project-related approvals.
Now that the church has let the deadline for appealing Cohn’s ruling pass, what’s going to happen next isn’t clear.
Pat Hopkins, a representative of the church, declined to comment on its future plans on Tuesday.
According to San Bernardino County spokesperson David Wert, the Church of the Woods has not withdrawn its application to build the project.
Meanwhile, the environmental groups behind the suit are counting this as win.
“I’m grateful the court recognized the highly detrimental impacts this development would have on our mountain traffic, making it more hazardous for residents to escape from fire, while also needing to add six new traffic signals,” Hugh Bialecki, President of Save Our Forest Association, said in a statement issued by the three groups.
“We’re relieved the county’s approval has been overturned,” Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the local Audubon Society, said in the release. “Now the many species that use this special site of century-old conifers and oaks — the owls, foxes, deer, and bear — and especially the boa and flying squirrels, two species found only in this forest, will not be evicted.”