By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Board of Adjustments and Appeals voted in favor of two variances from form-based codes for First Baptist Church’s proposed child care facility and drop-off lane Wednesday at City Hall.
The board unanimously approved a variance allowing FBC to construct a 140-foot wide child care center where city codes would typically limit its width to 120 feet. Board Chair Milo Burnham was the sole dissenter in a 4-1 vote in favor of a second setback variance for the drop-off lane, putting the child care center 43 feet away from the road where codes would typically only allow 15 feet. Board member Jeff Markham was absent from the meeting, and board member John Hill was absent for the second vote.
Architects Roger Pryor and Kevin Burchfield of Pryor and Morrow Architects represented FBC before the board. While Burnham ultimately voted in favor of the width variance, he still said he was concerned about FBC’s plans not conforming with the form-based codes the city adopted in February 2012.
“When the form-based codes have been in effect for a year, how did you get plans that exceeded (its limitations)?” Burnham asked.
Burnham also asked if the plans would have to be redrawn with the 120-foot restriction, and if that would impose an undue hardship on FBC. Pryor said it would be necessary to redraw the plans, and while the fact that the FBC project was still in the schematic stage would mitigate the hardship somewhat, the limitation would still be an issue.
“If you look at the number of children per room there’s a certain geometry that just works better (at 140 feet),” Pryor said. “It’s not arbitrary. It’s a lot more efficient in the layout. Twenty-five percent of the members of this church are senior adults. With this addition, we’ll go from 30 percent of the church being accessible for someone in a wheelchair to 66 percent accessibility.”
Dora Herring, FBC treasurer, then came forward and said the 120-foot limitation would pose a significant hardship. She said FBC had a committee that studied various requirements from the state health department and other regulators to help Pryor and Morrow arrive at their proposal.
“That whole group has got to start over and do another year if you’re redoing the footprint of it,” Herring said. “It would be a great hardship now to start over. Looking at the (transect district) variance provisions, we thought this was a reasonable (variance).”
Once the 140-foot variance was approved and attention turned to the 43-foot setback variance, Pryor discussed the value of the drop-off lane the variance would enable. He said it would increase accessibility for seniors, people with disabilities, and children, and he said putting the lane on Lafayette Street was the best of several alternatives his firm and FBC explored.
“Our first option was ... on the Washington (Street) side,” Pryor said. “Back there, it conflicts with the playground ... and it puts the traffic back on Washington. We really didn’t want to disrupt that historic district.”
Pryor added FBC would retain a rear parking area for parents to park and drop off toddlers at FBC’s daycare, limiting stoppage in the drop-off lane. Burnham said he was still concerned about increasing traffic on Lafayette Street, Lampkin Street and other nearby streets downtown. He also noted that transect districts normally did not allow child care centers, and when the Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission granted FBC an exception to that rule, it specifically listed the 15-foot setback limitation as a condition for that exception.
“We are looking at a situation of reconsidering ... what zoning and planning decided,” Burnham said. “Some people have fought very strongly for this form-based zoning and are very supportive of it. I don’t have a problem with granting a variance (from form-based codes). I do have a problem with granting this one.”
Board member Bill Webb said even without a traffic lane, traffic would still come through Lafayette Street to the child care facility. Pryor said he did not anticipate FBC-related Lafayette Street traffic increasing beyond its current levels, and when board member Marco Nicovich asked how many children FBC currently served, FBC building committee chairman Terry Jones said it served about 85. Pryor said FBC was not specifically looking to expand its child care with the new facility.
“The classrooms are a little oversized as far as meeting the bare minimum,” Pryor said. “If you filled it to the absolute maximum the state would allow, I believe it (would fit) 125 children. We’re not trying to be the largest daycare in town.”
Pryor said another alternative would be to create a 55-foot drop-off ramp on the south end of FBC property. Nicovich said he imagined that would cost FBC 25 or more parking spaces, and Pryor agreed.
“So you end up with a trade-off there,” Nicovich said. “You can park (FBC members) on the street for Sunday, or you can give them a little variance.”
As for Burnham’s concern about negating the zoning commission’s condition, Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill said the Starkville Board of Aldermen would resolve that issue when FBC’s requests go before it March 5.
“(City Attorney) Chris Latimer will have to weigh in,” Spruill said. “It’s going to the board (of aldermen) anyway, so that will all be taken up.”