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First Baptist decision postponed

Looking to get a grasp on First Baptist Church, Concord’s expansion plans for the next 10 years, the Farragut Municipal Planning Commission voted to postpone a decision on a 29,000 square foot student center site plan, requesting instead the development and presentation of the church’s long-range concept plan for its $37.5 million project.

The 7-2 vote, with Commissioners Ron Honken and Dot LaMarche voting no, came during an emotionally charged FMPC meeting Thursday, Sept. 20, in Farragut Town Hall.

Residents of Belleaire, Derby Chase, Glen Abbey and Farragut Crossing subdivisions, and Shiloh condominiums — most of whom have a variety of concerns about church and Concord Christian School expansion — created a packed meeting room.

Mayor W. Edward “Eddy” Ford III asked when church leaders and their architectural firm, Michael Brady, Inc., could present a concept plan to the Commission for “the next 10 years so we can hash out these issues to see what’s feasible and what’s doable, so the community can be involved and know about it. Why can’t we move in that direction?”

David Robinette, church spokesman, answered, “We think it’s going to take three to four months of working with the community to try to come to an agreement of how we go about the final layout of the site.”

Commission chairman Robert “Bob” Hill said, “My view of that is that you ought to have that plan down here right now. Then after we look at that plan and approve it, we can go forward with the phases, which is always the way we do business, and you know that.”

When Ford requested a concept plan “to present to the community” no later than April 2008, Michael Brady, Inc. representative Brian Pierce and Robinette agreed that plans could be developed and submitted to town staff by November 2007 for the December FMPC meeting.

Asked by Hill the anticipated future church membership number where expansion could be accurately assessed, Pierce said, “We planned out through 2017. It ended up with an ultimate church membership of 12,000 — currently we’re almost at 9,000.”

Addressing the elimination of 150 parking spaces with building the student center and how it ties into needing a concept plan, Commissioner Edward St. Clair said, “There will be an impact on the current parking situation — that’s parking up and down the sides of Belleaire [Drive]. Without that concept plan and knowing how any parking expansion deals with that, I don’t think we have the set of information to approve this right now tonight.”

When Commissioner Ron Honken said the parking issue is “different from any issue that comes before this board,” St. Clair answered, “I disagree. We’re taking a bad situation and exacerbating it by some planning decision.”

Ruth Hawk, Farragut Community Development Director, added the church “does meet our current parking requirements, which is one parking space per 30 square feet of sanctuary area,” and would still do so minus the 150 spaces.”

Also requesting a concept plan, Commissioner Constance Reutenber said, “It makes me uncomfortable to look at another plan on this site without a master plan because we know there will be more parking, more buildings and more traffic. … I think for where the church is placed, it seems at this point, to have outgrown its site.”

Commissioner Bob Edlund said he agreed with Reutenber about the “master plan,” adding he wasn’t “comfortable doing this in a piecemeal approach.”

Commissioner Carol Evans said, “May I suggest you look for a different sight and build a whole new church?” Loud audience applause followed. “There are mega-churches that go to the outskirts of town and buy up hundreds of acres of property and build what they want to build. That is an alternative, I’m just throwing it out.”

Robinette added, “Unfortun-ately that is not an alternative for us. There is not a hundred acres in West Knoxville in the general vicinity that can be bought that I know about.”

Robinette said the proposed student building “is replacing the space we lost … the old Goody’s building [Farragut Towne Square] leased for about the last five or six years. And [losing] our seven years of portables, we’re in great need of space.”

The portables housed six classrooms and approximately 120 students, Robinette added.

Temporary, portable buildings on sight “they had for years … those have been removed, they’re at the end of their approval process that was allowed under our zoning ordinance,” Hawk said.

Robinette said the new student building “is the closest building to Belleaire Drive that we intend in our, I guess, ultimate build-out over the next eight to 10 years.”

The church spokesman said First Baptist, Concord and Concord Christian School officials hope to have the new student building built and operational by August 2008.

“This building comprises our second gymnasium, two large meeting rooms with stages in them, a gathering room and five additional educational spaces,” Robinette added. “It is not just for school [grades K-8], it is for Sunday School, and other church events.”

Pierce said the student center’s new classrooms would serve CCS in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade.

Hill said that when church leaders voted against creating a high school, “about one-sixth of your membership voted on it. … I would want that concept plan to say grade one through eight only,” adding his fears of additional vehicle traffic from high school students at CCS.

“I don’t remember a project of this magnitude, this phase, that we didn’t see what the phases were in the beginning before we approved the first part of it.”

However, “We will work with everyone to try to make this harmonious,” the chairman added. “You’ve still got a lot of large hunk of property there, which we don’t really know anything about.”

Robinette said, “There are three or four communities that we have to hopefully come to some sort of agreement [with] … There’s always been a master plan on everything we’ve done.”

Several residents living near the church voiced their opinions:

• Bob Jones, Crestview Drive, said he was “kinda confused because the church held a meeting at Town Hall, I guess about a month ago, and they had plenty of drawings of the ballfields, and they had plenty of drawings showing the way they wanted to move our road. But tonight they come, and they don’t have any of that stuff.

“So I kinda feel like the church has taken the tactic where they’ll take a bid at a time … a building here, and building there,” Jones added. “And next thing you know, we’ve got a sports complex in our front yard.”

• William Davis, Belleaire Drive, said he supported postponing any site approval pending a concept plan because “hopefully it would clear up some confusion.”

• A Crestview Drive resident said he “didn’t understand how this could be approved without a 10 to 20 year concept plan.”

• A Glen Abbey resident who also said he “attends First Baptist Church” also wanted a concept plan before any site plans are approved, adding anything less “would be shortsighted and irresponsible.” The resident said the school could move because “it doesn’t have to be there with the church.”

Robinette added, “If the school was not there, this facility, the educational space, the gym, open meeting rooms, is still needed.”

Pierce emphasized the existing gymnasium “is open to the general public” and is “open five days a week.”

• A Belleaire subdivision resident was worried the church’s 150 lost parking spaces might lead to more cars being parked in residents’ yards, a problem he added already exists.


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