Thursday, January 14, 2010
Aldermen approve church permit
By SUE WATSON
The Holly Springs Board of Aldermen, in a split 3-2 vote, approved an exception for the construction of a new church on Neely Avenue, over the protest of a group of residents.
Pastor Actavatis Allen was reported to have met the standard requirement of 60 percent approval of the neighborhood in discussion that preceded the motion by alderman Russell Johnson to grant the exception to build the church in a commercial zone.
New Dimensions Salt and Light Ministries, a church which has been located at 215 McAlexander Road for about 12 years, has outgrown its current capacity and will build a church at 565 Neely Avenue.
Alderman Harvey Payne and Garrie Colhoun voted in opposition to the measure.
Payne asked the board and mayor that some Neely homeowners be allowed to express opposing views. Those who spoke against the placement of the church in their community, when it would serve mostly residents in the South Chesterman area, respectfully expressed concerns that the church’s activity-center orientation would attract some “bad seed” along with the good to their neighborhood.
Curtis Cook, an adjacent landowner to the church lot, said the community on Neely has been a stable retirement community for years.
“We do not want to see additional traffic in the area which is a nice, quiet, retirement community,” Cook said.
Lisa Griffin, whose property backs up to the new church lot, expressed concern about traffic and crime.
“Not in our back yard,” she said.
Griffin believes the basketball courts will become a hangout “where a bad seed will get in every now and then.”
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry countered that the presence of the community from Neely was not for the purpose of a public hearing on the matter; that the planning commission’s requirement of signatures had, in effect, served that purpose.
Griffin countered with concerns that, down the road, the church lot may be vacated and the building just become an eye-sore to the community.
DeBerry said the permitted use was just for the time the church intends to use it, not for all time.
“The only reason it is before this body is because it (its use) is for a church,” he said. “Some things are permitted on appeal - this because of some supplemental ordinances in B4 zones.”
The supplemental zoning regulations passed several years ago after Heritage Apostolic Church requested a permit to place a church on Heritage Drive. The regulations were passed by the previous board of aldermen because the tax base for that land use would detract from the tax revenue the city could enjoy if a commercial use of the property would be made, DeBerry explained. He said the church had access to land further away from its intended location that would not detract from the commercial development already taking place in the area in and around Walmart and two motels.
Cook said he has lived on Neely 30 years and some older residents have lived there 50 years.
“The land has been vacant all these years,” he said.
DeBerry said the board of aldermen could “not dictate uses outside what is described in the zoning codes.”
Renee Cook asked if the Neely residents could be allowed to look at the list of signatures in favor of the church to see who approved.
DeBerry said zoning has the authority to validate the signatures and the 60 percent threshold of signatures in favor had been met, according to zoning administrator Felicia Autry.
Curtis Cook alleged that all the landowners with property adjoining and within a 1,300-foot radius of the church lot and in opposition to the church location were present in the boardroom.
“Every landowner affected is here,” he said. “In my conversation with the minister, he told me he does not want to put a church in that will not be supported by the community.”
He asked the board to vote to deny the church permit.
Renee Cook asked again to see the signatures and DeBerry said he thought “it would be an infringement” on Autry’s position of trustworthiness already established by her record of performance.
“When you say he has 60 percent of the landowners (signatures), we are the ones to be affected,” Renee Cook said. “The others do not live near the property and they will not be affected by noise, crime, and traffic.”
“You assert the church would bring crime?” DeBerry asked.
“Not the church, but the basketball courts and bad seed,” Cook said.
Curtis Cook added, “Not the ones whose hearts are in the right place, they are not our concern.”
DeBerry alluded once again to standards that are part of the zoning regulations and that the city must enforce the ordinances it has.
“I understand the board does have latitude in this situation,” said Curtis Cook.
Alderman Garrie Colhoun asked if the church’s application and building plan met all the zoning requirements such as for parking and setback.
DeBerry said his concerns are that the standards set in place to monitor where churches are going to be located be met.
“This same ordinance applies to a B4 zone,” said Colhoun. “We talked about churches on the interchange. I just want to be sure we are not relinquishing...”
DeBerry, seeing that Colhoun was referring to Heritage Apostolic Church’s request for a building permit, said that the new zoning standards were put in place as a result of that dispute.
“We were not trying to deny them a building (permit),” he said, “but to not dictate a building in that area.”
Colhoun said he “fought hard to get that ordinance passed.”
“People accused me of being anti-church,” said DeBerry. “I’m not.”
Griffin asserted, “How can it be 60 percent (approval) when the majority (of landowners) are here?”
“There are others,” said DeBerry. “The process has been going on since last March. Autry is charged to verify, document, authorize. I feel comfortable the information she has brought forth in previous years is consistent. The question is if the board wants to act.”
“At the last meeting, we said not all people (who signed as approving the church) met the criteria (of owning property within a 1,300-foot radius of the proposed church lot).”
Alderman Calvin James reiterated the argument that the pastor could have been permitted to construct a multi-purpose center on the property without coming before the board to appeal.
“Hopefully, this group understands,” said DeBerry.
Alderman Johnson said he was concerned that the minister had the required percentage of signatures, then was required to go back and get signatures again after some changes in the building plan.
He then motioned to allow the church a permit and James seconded.
Payne said the process and timing of the matter was “kind of cloudy.”
“Just the signatures were all that was needed?” asked alderman Johnnie Bagley.
“If he met all the requirements, no motion is needed,” Johnson said.
The mayor called for a vote on Johnson’s motion and it passed 3-2. with Bagley, Johnson and James voting aye.
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