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Residents voice opposition to church plan

Acknowledging he was a Belleaire resident “up front,” Farragut Municipal Planning Commission chairman Robert “Bob” Hill nevertheless refused to mice words about First Baptist Church, Concord’s purchase of Belleaire subdivision homes as part of a long-range $37.5 million expansion plan.

“It’s wrong to abolish a community, and that’s what you’re doing when you buy houses and put something else there,” said Hill, a Belleaire resident since 1965, during the opening moments of FMPC’s monthly meeting, Thursday, Sept. 20, in a tightly-packed meeting room at Farragut Town Hall.

Hill added the church of reportedly close to 9,000 members “is a large enterprise and ought to be viewed as a large enterprise.”

The chairman’s comments drew applause from members of Belleaire, Derby Chase, Glen Abbey and Farragut Crossing subdivisions, and Shiloh condominiums — many of whom fear the effects of further church and Concord Christian School


“I will also state that I’m looking at this not as a resident of Belleaire — I live there and I’m interested in the outcome — but I’m looking at it as an issue broader than just one subdivision in terms of the town’s interest,” Hill added.

Concerning Belleaire houses bought by the church, Hill said, “Some of those houses have had two and three generations of families raised in them, of different families. Ever since I’ve lived there, until those houses started being acquired by the Baptist Church, it was a total community. From the time they started acquiring the houses, it’s essentially truncated the community by like a third.”

“It’s being distorted.”

Hill said Belleaire subdivision dates back to 1950s, adding “it’s either the oldest or second oldest subdivision in Farragut.”

Robert Fletcher, president of Derby Chase homeowners association, said he’s been told by “by people” at a 2002 meeting of church leaders and community members “that the church promised that the homes were going to remain, they were going to be held for missionary purposes only — and now they’re going to be torn down. So what I want to know is, what good is a promise if they can’t keep what the said several years ago?”

David Robinette, church spokesman, answered: “The houses have been used for missionary houses … we are still using a portion of those missionary houses,” adding, “I didn’t make that promise. I’m not sure when that promise was made.”

A Bellaire Drive resident said, “I know some of the houses they have down there, some of them are being used for missionary [work], but also some of them are now being used for offices and storage space. I was under the thought that when they purchased those that they were all going to be for missionary [work], not for offices and storage.”

Knoxville attorney Arthur Seymour Jr., representing Derby Chase, Shiloh and Belleaire, cited “concerns about the church’s expansion plans.”

“These people have bought homes, or built homes, in these subdivisions in this area of the town of Farragut an anticipation and reliance that they were moving into a residential zone,” Seymour said. “The town’s ordinance does permit churches in certain residential zones; however, I don’t think at the time the ordinance was written or amended some 25 years ago, that the mega-church was a concept the drafters envisioned … a church with a huge membership, huge Sunday attendance, activities that go on seven days a week. …Twenty-four hours a day in some instances.”

Robinette presented a short notice blueprint of other changes within the current church/school campus area, with completion projected “within the next eight to 10 years.”

In addition to expanded parking and other buildings planned in that time frame, Robinette said athletic fields are being considered on the southeast side of the acquired property.

Asked by Commissioner Edward St. Clair about “what phase” will include proposed parking diagramed on the southeastern side of church property, Robinette said, “probably the ’09 phase … with approximately 419, 420” spaces. Robinette said about 150 parking spaces will be lost where a new 29,000 square foot student center is constructed (See related story beginning on page 1A).

Robinette and other FBC leaders met with Seymour and Derby Chase, Shiloh and Belleaire residents Wednesday, Sept. 19.

“I thought we had a very good meeting [Sept. 19] — maybe not as well as I thought it went,” Robinette said.

Robinette added he and church leaders advised community members and Seymour they would, “over the next two to three months, meet with the communities and try to come to a complete agreement, if there is one, on the master plan of the whole, entire 40 acres.”

Seymour said, “I think the church owns 40 acres now, 22 to the west of Belleaire Drive and you add in the other 18, and there’s several lots to the south, you’re talking about 50 acres of property. That’s a major, major development.

“That’s what got everybody in your audience here tonight concerned. … This is one of the larger developments in the town of Farragut.”

Robinette said he’s been a part of “probably” three meetings with concerned residents “over the last 30 days or so.”

Seymour said, “The church has bought numerous properties on the east side of Belleaire [Drive]. It has bought several to the south of the existing campus. In the meeting yesterday we were told the church owns over 18 acres just to its east on Belleaire Drive, and this property backs up to Shiloh and to Derby Chase. These properties were single-family residential homes, and have been for a number of years. They will be removed or [are] in the process of being removed.

“Our suggestion is that … the church develop a concept plan and submit it to you all for public review, showing what they are going to do with this property,” Seymour added. (See related story beginning on page 1A).

Referring to the Sept. 19 meeting, Seymour said, “We were shown not a concept plan but the existing campus plans for this building. We were told there would be another school building that would be coming in for site plan approval in several months, that needs to be ready by August 2009, I believe, or July.”

That building, Robinette later added, would house “pre-school, nursery” and be located just to the west and south of the proposed student center.

Seymour said he was shown a sketch plan for the 18 acres to the east of Belleaire Drive that included 200 parking spaces “that would back right up to Shiloh. To the south of the remaining 18 acres, we were told they were probably going to be ballfields, soccer fields, softball fields, items like that, although no plans were shown.”

As for a possible new Concord Christian high school, Robinette said the church voted against the idea “five years ago,” adding, “there is still currently no plans in our talk at all to build a high school.”

Brian Pierce, representing the church’s architectural firm, Michael Brady, Inc., said, “In the design that we have pursued … none of those [buildings] are designed, or are capable of, meeting the requirements of a high school.”

Robinette recalled the church’s history at its current site: “This church bought property [at its current location] in the late 1950s and built the first three buildings in I think’62 — I think it pre-dates everything except Belleaire as far as subdivisions around it,” he said.

Other residents spoke to FMPC and church representatives about their concerns:

• Bart Fricks, Belleaire Drive, said he and his family moved to Farragut in 1975, having bought their current home five years ago. “We spent a tremendous amount of money updating the home, bringing it into what I called ‘the millennium’ at the time,” he said. “… If you ever spend time on a Sunday trying to go down through there where cars are parked all over and it’s very congested, and in the morning when you’re going to work, a lot of traffic going in and out of the school, you could understand the frustration of living in Belleaire. … I’m concerned about the property values, and I’m concerned about the congestion.”

• Tom Reed, Farragut Crossing Drive, said his property “shares 200 or 300 feet of common border with the church right now. I was involved in the last expansion quite a bit,” when Reed said he received “a drainage easement for emergency overflow,” adding he wants that easement “to be preserved.” Saying he was speaking for other adjacent residents, Reed also sought to move “construction staging areas” eastward and keep existing trees in place as long as possible. As for traffic, he said area residents each Sunday “have to schedule when we come and go to get through the crowds of your church. I enjoy some of the facilities of the church … and you’ve been a reasonably good neighbor, but at some point you’re too big for the site. …”

• Bob Jones, Crestview Drive, said he was skeptical after hearing that Robinette and Ruth Hawk, Farragut Community Develop-ment director, first talked of “rerouting Belleaire Drive three years ago, and then 30 days ago was the first time we were ever even told about it. … Why are we just finding out about it?”

Hawk said her talks with Robinette and other church officials were “just discussions, there hasn’t been anything to really notify the neighborhood about.”

• A Glen Abbey resident expressed concern about traffic, saying he doubted FBC officials are interested in the problem. Because of these traffic concerns, he added the church’s “non-religious facilities” such as the school and playground, “be located at another site.”

• Building a “ranch-style fence” along each side of Belleaire Drive to prevent shoulder parking was the suggestion of another Belleaire resident.

• Another Belleaire Drive resident cited “misrepresentation,” saying that just because parking along the side of the road isn’t allowed, “it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.”

• Fearing the church’s traffic problems would be shifted west into his subdivision was a Farragut Crossing Drive resident’s concern.

• Joe Pickle, saying he has been a resident of Vista Trail “for three weeks,” added there was a discrepancy between FBC Web site plans and what was being presented in meetings, “other paperwork and on the news.”

Pickle also noted traffic problems, adding “there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to pacify that or address that situation in this plan, and there’s no discussion of a future plan.”

Answering the Web site discrepancies, Robinette said, “We have studied several master plans … a lot of it came [from] the different routes of Belleaire Drive going over to Glen Abbey. There’s been three or four different routings of Belleaire thinking it would be better to … try and get church traffic off of Belleaire … over to Glen Abbey. … Getting a route over there that would line up with future expansion of Municipal Center Drive, potentially behind the Kohl’s building.

“When we met with all three communities, the resounding voice was ‘leave Belleaire Drive exactly where it is,’” Robinette added. “We didn’t have a plan to leave Belleaire Drive exactly where it is.”

Mayor W. Edward “Eddy” Ford III added, “I would hope that in the future, we do see a proposal by the church to widen Belleaire.”

Robinette agreed that 18 staff recommended compliance issues, items including fire lanes and emergency vehicle access, would be acceptable.

Warning that future growth could overwhelm Belleaire Drive’s ability to handle the traffic, Town engineer Darryl Smith said he envisions a “three-lane” drive as feasible.

When Robinette said the shoulders off Belleaire Drive are no longer used for parking, a handful of audience members responded, “the street was blocked tonight,” and “it was blocked last night, too.”

As for overall future traffic concerns around the church, Smith said, “That is certainly a concern,” adding the importance of a concept plan “so we know where we’re headed.”

Hawk added, “On thing we did ask for … is a deceleration lane [along] Kingston Pike onto Belleaire Drive,” saying church leaders have agreed to this.


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