The Lebanon Board of Zoning Appeals met Monday where it approved a “use on appeal,” with conditions, for Immanuel Baptist Church.
Over the years, the church has acquired many lots and properties in the Castle Heights neighborhood, around West Spring Street and Westwood Drive, with the intent to use them for church purposes and expand the church campus.
City attorney Andy Wright said all of the land was zoned R1, which prevents church use.
According to board chair Bob Black, the purpose for the use of appeal is strictly to rezone the land to allow for church use.
However, many residents of the area showed up and voiced their concerns over issues such as poor water drainage in the neighborhood, parking concerns, traffic flow and church expansion encroaching in the residential neighborhood.
“I’m against this for the fact of the water situation,” said Brenda Price of West Spring Street. “I’ve been in the area a long time and the water flooding started when the church started expanding. I don’t think what the church wants to do is in the best interest of my property or other lots.”
Many others from the public then reiterated similar concerns to the board.
Byron Gill, who said he is a member of the church and also representing the church, said that Immanuel would be holding a community meeting Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at the church for the public to come out and address concerns.
Gill said on Monday the church wasn’t looking to petition for a site plan, but simply to get certified for church use of the property.
Black said he’d been around for a long time and he was aware of the concerns surrounding the church and neighborhood, but all the board had authority to do is rezone the church for church use or leave it zoned as R1 for residential use.
Black said any other plans the church had, like building or something that would disturb the water drainage, would be the responsibilities of the Planning Commission to look at.
Planning Director Paul Corder said the request the church turned in didn’t include changing anything, so the board should look at approving the rezoning use on appeal based on that request.
Residents then questioned the church’s intentions and future plans on expanding and building.
“All we’re doing tonight, all it means is we’re rezoning to make it a legal church use. It won’t do a thing different,” Wright said. “And they can’t build without going in front of the Planning Commission.”
Gill said, as of now, there were no exact plans for what the future holds for the church.
“Again, we’re just looking to get a use on appeal to make it a legal church use,” Gill said. “Then when we have the community meeting next week we’d love to hear all of your concerns and address those issues going forward. But the use on appeal has nothing to do with future plans.”
Corder said zoning the properties the church has bought over time, around 24 parcels, would make clear the whole church campus included for church use if the church ever looked to sell or redraw property lines.
Corder said that the planning staff believed that, with no changes to how the properties are now, there would be no greater hardships caused to the neighborhood because of the rezoning.
Still, residents pushed for conditions to be put on the use on appeal that would address issues they had.
Board member Paul Stumb said he felt the water concerns were significant and he didn’t want the church’s future plans to further issues with the water drainage in the area.
“Tonight, we’re looking at, does rezoning this as a church zone create an adverse impact on the neighborhood? And, I don’t think it does,” Wright said.
Stumb said he believes the church truly intends to be a good neighbor and he felt comments on adding conditions to the use on appeal seemed reasonable.
Stumb then moved that the board approve the use on appeal for the church to be granted with conditions that future developments don’t exacerbate the water situation in the neighborhood and a buffer between the church campus and the neighborhood is required.
The Planning Commission would identify the buffer.
The board then passed the use on appeal for Immanuel Baptist Church with Stumb’s proposed conditions.