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Rev. Ron Dunn stands in the space at the San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church where the church plans to build a nearly 9,000-square-foot gymnasium and game room in Alamo, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 3, 2013. Neighbors and members of the Alamo Improvement Association are concerned that the church is overstepping its reach, saying if it becomes a community center it will adversely increase traffic and noise in the area. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

ALAMO -- After rejecting a series of appeals by neighbors, county supervisors have unanimously approved plans for a recreation center at San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church in Alamo.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave the green light to church plans to build a nearly 8,000-square-foot multipurpose recreation building at its Danville Boulevard site. It also will allow the facility to remain open until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and until 7 p.m. on Sunday, although its parking lot lights must be off by 10 p.m.

The gym would be used for church-affiliated programs and athletic events, and will be offered to the rest of the community to use, said Kathleen McShane, a co-pastor at the church.

"It already is a church that houses programs for all ages, days and evenings, seven days a week," she said, explaining that the gym "simply enhances what the church already does, which is to build community by meeting people's physical and spiritual needs."

McShane emphasized that "the purpose of this building is not to make a profit."

Funding for the project came from "a gift to the church by a generous member of congregation." United Methodist plans to share that gift with the larger community, which needs more such facilities, she said.

"Everything the church does now is open to the public," she said. "That's the same it's been for the last 57 years."


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However, some residents are concerned about the new facility's impact on the area. Palmer Madden, his wife, Susan Paulus, and Scott Tiernan had filed appeals with the county, saying the new building -- especially if open to the public -- would have significant noise impacts, as well as result in increased traffic and parking demands.

Tom Lippe, an attorney for Madden, argued that the gym was akin to a commercial enterprise since it could be charging fees for gym use to other groups.

"What you're doing here is giving a preference to put in a nonresidential facility that is not a church, simply because that land is owned by a church," he argued.

But Will Nelson, the county's principal planner, told the board that the church's desire to add a gym was consistent with the general plan and is similar to what other county churches are doing. He recommended the board deny the appeals and uphold the planning commission's January decision to allow the church's plans to go forward.

County Supervisor Candace Andersen said she felt the county's zoning administrator had "some very, very good solutions" to balance the needs of the church and residents' concerns.

Studies of the area also found that the gym would not create a significant impact in sound or traffic, Andersen said. And the county outlined numerous project requirements, such as those that demand noise levels not be higher than 45 to 50 decibels and that the church move windows and put in buffer landscaping to limit sound, she said.

"The church is taking great measures to make sure that are meeting those standards," Andersen said.

However, residents who oppose the project are wary, Madden said, based on past experiences, that restrictions on noise, lighting and street parking will not be met over time.

"Our church intends to be a good neighbor," McShane said. "And it has been -- and we think it has been -- for the past 57 years."

Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.