I realize that this update on what’s going on with the new property is long overdue. I’m sorry.
The last formal update was in November 2018 so let me catch you up on what’s been happening—or in some cases, not happening—since then.
We still have not received building permits from the City of Phoenix, but it seems that we’re getting close—so close that we’ve decided to begin professional demolition this week in anticipation.
What’s been taking so long? Good question. Last Thursday, Mike Mabry (a fellow elder) and I sat down with our general contractor, Dean Schifferer and our architect, Ned Wright, to discuss the status of the project. We were at Starbucks. Dean and Ned are both believers. I asked them, “Apart from the sovereignty of God, do you have any rational, human explanation for why this project has taken so long for the City to approve?”
Dean said he’s never seen anything like it in all his years as a builder. Ned who does projects all over the country said the only place that is routinely worse than this is southern California where it takes forever to get things approved.
What makes us so “special”? I don’t know. And neither do they. But here’s what’s been going on.
There are three sets of plans that the City must approve. Let me briefly cover what’s going on with each one.
The first set of plans that must be approved are the building plans drawn up by our primary architect. We are currently in the fourth round of plans submitted to the City. After each previous submittal, it seems that someone new at the City brings up something new that we must do, and the right hand doesn’t always know the left hand is doing.
Our most recent challenge came when someone said we need to build new firewalls between our space and adjacent spaces now occupied by Anytime Fitness and Yoga Pura. This presented a big problem because the way the City wanted us to construct them would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that we cannot afford.
After numerous appeals and negotiations, the City has relented, saying we don’t need to build the expensive firewalls after all. Instead, we need to build a firewall between our office space and our auditorium space. That’s not a big deal at all. We can afford it. It’s just a minor adjustment to the plans. But it does require resubmitting the entire set of plans and going to the back of the line. Which we have done.
Now, the City guy overseeing our job tells us that we should have this wrapped up by the end of the first week of February. Here’s a quote from his email from last Tuesday, January 22nd: “I am hopeful that they will get it finished up by the end of next week. Sorry for the delay, we are literally swamped still from the holidays.” I realize, based on what’s happened before, that this email and a couple bucks can buy you a cup of coffee. But we’re hopeful.
In addition to the building plans, the City must also approve a site plan drawn up by a civil engineer. Our civil engineer is Stuart Rayburn. And a site plan includes things like parking and drainage. Very early on in this process, many months ago, the City said we might need a parking variance. Stuart successfully negotiated with the City and designed the parking such that no variance was needed. You may recall we’re adding about 40 spaces to the north side of the property.
A little later, the City said we needed to tear up the existing parking lot and put in a brand-new drainage system to serve the entire plaza—a $77,000 project we can’t afford. Stuart did some research into the relevant ordinances and successfully proved to the City that we are not required to put in a new drainage system. The City agreed. So, we thought we were in the clear on the site plan.
But more recently, someone new at the City has looked at the site plan and said, “Gee, it looks like you guys might need a parking variance.” It seems that this new person has not reviewed the project notes from months before indicating that no parking variance is required. So, this new person has now rejected the site plan, and has been unresponsive to repeated attempts by our civil engineer to connect and rehearse the discussions and approvals that happened a long time ago.
So, last Friday, Stuart went down to the City in person and uninvited to try to resolve this. By the grace of God who grants small miracles, he was able to speak with both the original parking plan reviewer who initially approved the plan, and the new reviewer who is now rejecting it. They said they would get together and let us know tomorrow, January 28th, what, if anything, we need to do. We’re praying for an all-clear.
In addition to the building plan and the site plan, a landscaping plan must also be approved. Our landscaping architect is Jason Harrington. I’m told that, compared to building plans and site plans, landscaping plans are usually a piece of cake to get approved. And there’s not much landscaping involved in our project. Preliminarily, the City has told us that we’ll have to put some new trees in the parking lot islands, but not much else.
Only one problem, the City will not formally look at a landscaping plan until the site plan is approved. So, approval of the landscaping plan is waiting on approval of the site plan.
Are you keeping all this straight?
Now, the City hasn’t been our only challenge. As times goes on and plans are modified, costs have changed. Consequently, we’ve been having to make hard decisions to keep this project within budget.
Just one example: the electrician who originally agreed to do the job recently dropped out. And his bid was $60,000 less that the next-lowest bidder. Because this is a cash-only build-out and we only have so many dollars to spend, this means we have to cut $60,000 somewhere else. And that’s just one financial twist among many.
Last Thursday, at our meeting with the general contractor and architect, we went over the project budget for what seems like the hundredth time, trying to find ways to value engineer the build-out and keep it within budget. I came away encouraged. We’re within spittin’ distance of making ends meet. It may require a little sweat equity from our church family. For example, we could probably save about $30,000 if we do a lot of the painting ourselves. We’ll keep you posted.
That’s pretty much all the news I have. You are probably wondering, “so, when are we going to get to move into our new building?” The best answer I can give is: we’ll have our first service in the new building about 5 months from the time we get permits from the City. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a long time. I’ve had rashes longer than that.
I want to assure you that, as elders, we have turned every stone we can find to try to move things along, including having very difficult conversations with our general contractor and architect. And we have carefully considered all the reasonable options we can identify for moving forward, including changing the key players involved. We have decided that our current general contractor is still our best way forward. And our best course now is perseverance and prayer with patience and faith that God provide what we need in his timing.
Looking back, I rest assured we have done what God would have us do. Looking forward, I have every confidence we’ll continue follow his lead. And it will turn out for his glory. We have it in us.
- Bob Kerrey, Lead Pastor, Moon Valley Bible Church