Bethlehem Baptist to build new 664-seat church in Lakeville with plans to grow

Bethlehem Baptist to be fourth mega church in city

After years of planning, Bethlehem Baptist Church hopes to begin construction of its church building on 12 acres located just north of the I-35 and County Road 70 intersection near Holiday Inn.

The Minneapolis-based, three-campus church led by the Rev. Jason Meyer, is planning to open the building next year with sanctuary seating for 664 and room for expansion.

Its south campus congregation of about 550 now meets at Lakeville South High School. Plans include a 54-foot tall cross outside with a gym, nursery and classroom space inside.

Church officials are planning to add a balcony in the sanctuary to allow another 300 seats.

Future expansion of the main building is also proposed, as is construction of a 1,400-square-foot detached accessory building.

Photo submitted
Bethlehem Baptist Church is moving forward with plans to build a church building on 12 acres near the I-35 and County Road 70 intersection. The building would include a sanctuary with seating for 664 people and room to later add a balcony that seats 300. Construction is expected to start this fall with it open next year. The church meets at Lakeville South High School.

If approved by the City Council on Sept. 18, Bethlehem Baptist’s project would become the fourth mega-sized church building with seating space for more than 500 people located in Lakeville.

Others are Hosanna Lutheran, Trinity Evangelical Free and Celebration — an Assemblies of God church.

Lakeville Planning Commission members unanimously approved preliminary and final plans for the church building at its Aug. 17 meeting after church officials made changes to the development plans due to concerns of neighboring property owners expressed at an Aug. 3 public hearing regarding the project at the Planning Commission meeting.

Residents of the Enclave at St. Frances Woods, a housing development east of the south campus building location, had cited concerns about the church’s plans to remove many large trees for a parking lot along with its proposed stormwater management.

Fifty residents submitted a petition asking the city require the church to build its parking lots and water retention ponds later or consider alternative underground systems to preserve more trees.

Bethlehem Baptist representative Jon Hendricks said in response to the concerns, church officials worked with the city and its engineers to revise construction plans.

The future parking area would move farther west of the neighbors and the plan now includes more trees and tall pine trees in the space originally planned for future parking. Hendricks said underground ponding was not proposed.

He said ponding underground is only done on developments where there is not enough land available to install it above ground.

Henricks said Bethlehem’s entire site needs to be graded at once for the church building and parking lots to properly function.  “The existing grades on our property are too steep to have safe drives and safe parking lots,” Hendricks said. “The high spots need to be lowered, the low spots need to be filled. The ponds need to be constructed now because they are as much linked to what we’re building now as they are to the future parking.”

Planning Commission Chair Jason Swenson, an engineer who primarily practices in stormwater engineering, agreed.

He said the stormwater ponds have to go in the location they were proposed to allow drainage of the property.

“There’s nothing here that jumps out at me as being unreasonable or inappropriate,” Swenson said.

He said they could think about downsizing the stormwater ponds, but “it goes contrary to everything I’ve ever tried to recommend to every developer ever as I’ve been practicing.”

“And that is basically, you need to think about the final or future site design of your project and plan for it today,” Swenson said, calling the parking and site plans “perfectly reasonable and appropriate.”

Hendricks noted the church purchased its land in 2012 submitted plans to the city that year showing parking in that area so future neighbors could know in advance what was proposed for the property behind them.

He said the neighborhood was not platted until fall 2014 and houses started to be built there in 2015.

“We’re not unsympathetic to our neighbors,” Hendricks said. “But it seems we did what was reasonable to let them know what would happen to the property to the west of them.”

City officials are also working with the neighborhood to address their pond issues.

Chuck Steddom, lead pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church south campus, at the Aug. 3 public hearing described Bethlehem Baptist Church as one that will be involved in the community.

He said in 2006, the church began worship services at Burnsville High School and after five years moved to its current location in Lakeville South High School as more space was needed.

He described the church, which totals about 4,000, including its other campuses in Minneapolis and Mounds View, as a community of people dedicated to serving the community.

“Our church is committed, very committed, to helping meet the needs of people in a holistic way,” Steddom said.

He said they are concerned about the general wellness of people, their spiritual, social, emotional and physical needs. “We believe that’s important and so many of the challenges we face in our communities have to do with the fact that people don’t feel safe and secure,” Steddom said. “They’re unable to provide for their families and they don’t feel like there’s a hope for the future.”

Steddom said they have come alongside people, getting involved in things like English language training for Somali, Chinese and Russian communities.

Other areas the church has helped include senior transportation, after-school tutoring, job skills training and parks and recreation programming in south Minneapolis, mobilizing coaches for baseball, basketball and soccer and providing support to sports leagues.

He said they have also donated to build playgrounds and renovate libraries and have been funding a summer concert series in the park.

He said their multipurpose gymnasium would be enclosed but not finished, and would serve as a community building and outreach center.

Planning Commission members noted the church’s original plan was in compliance with city code, yet the church voluntarily made numerous changes to address concerns of their neighbors.

“We want businesses, churches that care about the community that they’re in,” said Planning Commission Member Pat Kaluza. “I really appreciate that everyone was respectful, and I think we have a solution here tonight that is a very good compromise.”

Planning Commission Member Elizabeth Bakewicz noted the desire of the church to “take what they heard and do something with it.”

She called the effort “admirable,” noting the church will have additional expenses and made some sacrifice to address the neighborhood concerns.

“I do believe this is a step forward in the right direction,” Bakewicz said. “Losing 41 parking spaces might not seem like much to one group but it might seem like a lot to the church for the future and the future of the church, so that was a sacrifice they made.”

More plans

Another major church building project is also being planned at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, now located at 20270 Iberia Avenue in Lakeville.

The church has sold its building to Valley Christian Church, located at Dodd Boulevard and Cedar Avenue, in a transition expected to be finalized by October.

Southland City Church, which currently meets in Lakeville North High School, is planning to move into the Valley Christian Church building in a transaction that also includes 10 acres of land.

Valley Christian Church will move into the Bethlehem Lutheran Church building, where the congregation is planning to construct an addition to the building.

The congregation is planning to move church supplies and furniture into the new space at the end of September.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church announced it will be building a larger ministry center on a about 15 acres of its 19-acre property at Ipava Avenue and 195th Street in Lakeville and will meet at Lakeville North High School starting Oct. 8 until the new building is complete.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s website described moving from the church’s current site “necessary,” and said moving north will immediately triple its seating capacity.

They are planning to build a three-story senior housing apartment building on approximately four acres of the property.

The building, Kingsway Lakeville, is to consist of 70 one- and two-bedroom apartments.