ILLUSTRATION: An illustrated location map shows Brentwood United Methodist Church’s revised master plan for parking and one building addition by developers Ragan-Smith Associates. / Illustration courtesy of the City of Brentwood
By RACHAEL LONG
A handful of concerned neighbors appeared before the city’s Planning Commission this week to publicly voice their opposition to Brentwood United Methodist Church’s (BUMC) revised master plan, which included the addition of 90 parking spaces to its main campus.
Despite public opposition, the Planning Commission voted to approve the revised master plan, sending it forward in the process for consideration by the City Commission.
Those who appeared to speak were mostly residents, although some towed both lines.
Neighbor and BUMC member Taj Wolff said, “I feel like I’m in a terrible place because I love both my church and my neighborhood. However, in this case, my neighborhood is going to suffer at the hands of my church.”
The arguments against the church’s plan centered around the proposed parking lot, which will sit on the West side of the building off of Williamsburg Road. Neighbors fear the addition will cause light and sound pollution, increased crime, the devaluation of their properties, flooding concerns from runoff, and more.
One planning commissioner was vocal from the start about his opposition to the church’s plan. The way John Church sees it, the plan is not in compliance with the intent of Section 78-261 of the Brentwood Zoning Ordinance, which states:
“It is the intent of this division to provide suitable areas for the expression of religion which enhances the quality of life in the community without creating objectionable or undesirable influences on nearby residential districts. These SI-1 service institution (religious) districts are appropriately located between commercial and residential districts and on other suitable tracts located adjacent to arterial streets where residential development is not appropriate or feasible, and/or where the requirements of this division are deemed adequate to mitigate any adverse impact on the nearby residential development.”
It’s that last part Church said doesn’t fit.
“As I stated last Thursday, this proposal does not mitigate light pollution for the residences, it creates it. The proposal does not mitigate noise pollution for the residences, it creates it,” Church said. “And the proposal does not mitigate storm water drain off, it creates it.”
Upon hearing his words, many of the gathered residents applauded.
During her comments, Wolff also referenced the part of the code that pertained to the church’s influences on the neighboring residential districts.
“If this plan is approved, the impact on our neighborhood will be both objectionable and undesirable,” Wolff said to the planning commission. “How does that not apply here?”
Though Church has not wavered in his position, city officials and the developers insisted the plan was in compliance with the municipal code. One man — a member of BUMC and chair of the Master Facility Plan — also said, “There’s no question that a number of the property owners we met with have existing storm water issues. Our plan would not be allowed to make these conditions worse.”
Brad Slayden, of developers Ragan-Smith Associates, mentioned the church’s efforts to work with the neighborhood. Where they are technically entitled to three access points, Slayden said the plan only asked for two, in an effort to mitigate traffic on Williamsburg Road.
Several planning commissioners stated that if this presentation were the final proposal, they would not vote in its favor. Since it was the master plan, and not an fully mapped out design, those commissioners saw no reason to vote against it.
Chair of the BUMC Trustees Steve Burgin said he understood the neighbors’ complaints, but also understood the “trade-off” of living near the church.
“We’ve really tried to be good neighbors…I’m sure if I lived in the neighborhood, I’m sure I would have concerns, as well,” Burgin said.
BUMC Executive Director Leslie Hotzfeld spoke about the church’s efforts to better the community. She also addressed the safety concerns some residents brought forward.
“We are very cognizant of the need for security and we work very closely with our Brentwood city police department to ensure that all of our parking areas and also our facilities are as secure as possible,” Hotzfeld said. “And we’ll certainly continue to do that.”
Holzfeld added that the church’s membership had grown to more than 8,000 people, 5,000 of which she said live in Brentwood.
Those in opposition to the church plan insisted the church explore more options. BUMC representatives said they already had.
“In the course of planning for the next 20 years, we do believe there is a case for expanding the footprint, which has led us to this situation with parking,” Burgin said. “But we have explored every option that we possibly can, we do believe that.”
The church owns the property and has taken necessary steps through the city to develop that property. As stewards of the property, city-approved changes to that property are within their rights.
It seems that the big question in the room Monday night was not whether the church leaders could install a parking lot, but whether they should.
A group of concerned residents’ sentiments seemed best summed up when Wolff said, “The residents always pay, and here we go again.”