By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission recommended city approval for nine land use requests from First Baptist Church at its meeting Tuesday, adding some conditions that an FBC representative says have caused concern among church members.
Pryor and Morrow Architects presented the requests on FBC’s behalf Tuesday, and one of the firm’s architects, Roger Pryor, said the commission gave each of the nine requests its own public hearing and attached conditions to all of them. Commission Chair Jerry Emison said these hearings stretched the meeting to three hours, but he considered it time well spent.
“This is a big request,” Emison said. “There are a lot of moving parts in this thing, and we wanted to treat them fairly, so that we were fair to the applicant and also fair to the general public. I think the people who spoke at the public hearings who were not speaking on behalf of the church were concerned about ... screening of properties, future use of the properties, lighting of the properties and that sort of thing.”
FBC’s requests included four rezoning requests, four requests to use parcels for parking and one request to allow a child care center in a transect district on Lafayette Street. Starkville Chief Administrative Officer and Interim City Planner Lynn Spruill said several of the conditions the zoning commission put forth focused on the parking requests.
“Some of the conditions were essentially related to curb cuts on Washington Street and lighting (for the parking lots), canopy trees for landscaping and ... 35 feet of buffer space,” Spruill said.
Pryor said FBC is glad to comply with several of the commission’s conditions. For instance, he said, several property owners adjacent to FBC asked for parking lots to use low-intensity lighting.
“The church certainly agrees with that,” Pryor said. “They don’t want to make it look like a convenience store over there.”
The condition that concerns church members most, Pryor said, pushes the child care center to within 15 feet of the property line. This condition prevents the church from building a traffic shelter adjacent to the road, a covered drop-off lane with building access for those with disabilities.
“Right now ... 25 percent of their membership are senior adults,” Pryor said. “If it’s raining or inclement weather, it’s hard for these adult members to get into the church. They wanted to improve accessibility for the handicapped and for the senior membership. It’s a place where you could let off your children or your grandmother. From that point, we have accessibility through ramps that would allow an elderly person to make it to other buildings. We feel very strongly that providing accessibility for the physically handicapped is important.”
Emison said many of the commission’s conditions codify practices FBC had already planned to put in place, including planting trees and enabling the public to use FBC parking lots when the church is not using them. Any other conditions, he said, were put in place with the public in mind.
“We think those were conditions that needed to be placed to balance the public’s interests against (those of) the applicant,” Emison said. “I think that this is the way the process is supposed to work, so that all parties’ interests, not just the applicant’s interests, are attended to.”
Pryor said he did not see the point in codifying a practice FBC already agreed to, particularly the parking conditions. He said the movement of the child care center came from a misguided adherence to the form-based codes that govern the transect district where FBC plans to build the child care center.
“The programmatic requirements of an individual project takes second seat to their sacred transect district requirements,” Pryor said. “I think that the building committee of the church and the people that work in that child care facility know more about how that facility needs to be positioned on the site... than I do or any other design professional (does). That’s why I take my directions from those people. It takes a certain arrogance to stand up and tell people, ‘You need to do it this way.’”