By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission granted permission to New Horizons Christian Fellowship to establish a place of worship at 60 Lynn Lane, but not before implementing an extra condition repositioning the building and its parking lot, leading church representatives to raise objections.
The commission also approved a final plat for NHCFâ€™s planned location, south of Starkville High School. The Starkville School Board granted NHCF an easement for ingress and egress across school district right of way for the proposed church property at its meeting March 6.
Chuck Bates and Mike Brent appeared at the meeting on NCHFâ€™s behalf. Bates said NCHF is currently sharing a place of worship with First Assembly of God on Louisville Street, and its leaders intend to start construction as soon as the necessary zoning requirements are met.
No one spoke in the public comment portion of the public hearing, but afterward, Commissioner Jeremy Murdock said he wanted to impose an additional condition on NCHFâ€™s use of the land. He said he wanted NCHF to essentially invert its site plan, moving the parking lot away from Lynn Lane and placing the building adjacent to Lynn Lane, where the parking lot was originally between the road and the building.
Murdock said it would fit the areaâ€™s character best to hide the parking lot behind the building, lowering the parking lotâ€™s visibility from Lynn Lane. Bates said he was concerned about children playing near the church building and getting too close to the side of the road. He said the expense of a redesign was his primary objection.
â€śI donâ€™t think we can really afford to change it, to be honest with you,â€ť Bates said.
Questioning Murdockâ€™s argument about the areaâ€™s character, Brent said the section of Lynn Lane in question has little else on it, and there are several other properties nearby on Academy Road with parking in front. He said he wanted to save any changes to the site plan for the cityâ€™s site plan review.
â€śI donâ€™t think weâ€™re really set up to redesign it tonight,â€ť Brent said.
Murdock then said the zoning commission is able to set conditions to grant land use conditions for certain uses in certain zones before the site plan review; in this case, a place of worship in a C-2 (general business) zone qualifies as conditional use. He said even though Lynn Lane is relatively underdeveloped, he wanted the church to set a precedent for future development by following the example of other buildings in Starkville with rear parking lots, such as City Bagel Cafe.
â€śIâ€™m thinking in the long-term interest of the area, since you are one of the first developers in that area,â€ť Murdock said. â€śThose are just my views.â€ť
Herring said she had an alternative: Allow NHCF to keep the front parking lot, but require NHCF to reduce the parking lotâ€™s visibility with landscaping.
â€śI donâ€™t have the same concerns as Mr. Murdock does,â€ť Herring said.
The commission, Brent and Bates then extensively discussed the implications such a requirement would have for fire truck access and parking lot size, and Brent and Bates said they would be willing to give up parking space to meet Herringâ€™s condition. Herring made a motion to recommend the Starkville Board of Aldermen approve NHCFâ€™s request with this condition, but no one seconded it.
Murdock said he wanted a more concrete, measurable requirement, and he ultimately made a motion to recommend approval with a condition requiring parking areas to be relocated to the buildingâ€™s rear. Commissioner Jason Walker seconded it.
Murdockâ€™s measure passed 3-2, with commissioners Murdock, Walker and John Moore in favor and commissioners Herring and James Hicks against. Commissioner Ira Loveless was absent.
Brent then asked if NHCF could appeal the new condition when the request went before the board of aldermen. City Planner Ben Griffith said while it would not be an appeal process per se, NHCF could express disagreement to the aldermen, who have the power to remove such components.
In other matters, the commission:
u Kept Shenestia Thompsonâ€™s rezoning request to replace a manufactured home at 1646 Rockhill Road tabled. Assistant City Planner Pamela Daniel said Thompson and her family have not yet resolved the ownership issue which kept the commission from acting Feb. 14.
u Recommended approval of Carissa Hendrixâ€™s rezoning request to place a mobile home at 1587-2 Bluefield Road.
u Recommended approval of Second Missionary Baptist Churchâ€™s expansion at 314 Yeates St.
u Recommended approval of Michael Valentineâ€™s request to establish an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment therapy center with no overnight stays at 905 Louisville St.