By ALICIA LEONARD
The DeFuniak Springs Planning Board passed, 2-1, a request for special approval for an additional preschool for First Baptist Church, Inc. (FBC) during a public hearing on Dec. 1. The passage paves the way for the request to come in front of the DeFuniak Springs City Council during their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m.
Planning Board members Jim Harman and Ryan Douglass recused themselves from the meeting and having the ability to vote due to a possible conflict of interest. Harman is a deacon at FBC and Douglass is on the committee for the FBC pre-school. Board member Roger Leatherberry was absent.
In a memorandum prepared by DeFuniak Springs Planning Director Greg Schoville and presented to the city Planning Board, Schoville noted that the church’s request can only be granted by special approval in an R-1 single-family residential district where the structure is located. The memorandum stated, “Because the applicant has stated that the site and the exterior of the structure are to remain undisturbed (no site or building alteration), no site development plan has been provided.” Schoville also stated “the FBC recently completed a traffic impact analysis for the development associated with the creation of First Christian Academy church school, and the structure at 174 Crescent is to be used for purposes (preschool) already permitted on another portion of the property, no new traffic study would seem necessary.”
Schoville went over the memorandum with the Planning Board and added, “It has been brought to the city’s attention that trees have been removed and there might be possible parking at the back of the residence and work did progress at the site or certain improvements since the application, without permits, but the staff has no objections as long as any other work on the building or possible parking, the applicants must submit plans for such improvements and cease improvements until a site plan or certificate of appropriateness is given.”
Schoville’s memo went on to explain the city’s stance with the request, “Staff has no objections to the approval of the use exception subject to the following conditions: should any alterations to the building or site be contemplated, the owner will submit a site plan, meeting all code requirements for review, and a building permit, and a certificate of appropriateness (if required) will be applied for. A preliminary inspection by the Building Official will be required to ensure compliance with Life Safety and handicapped-access requirements. Water and sewer rates will be adjusted to commercial rates.”
Planning Board Chairman B.B. Campbell Sr. opened the meeting to discussion among board members. Don Truitt said that from the photographs, it looked like a some things had been removed and, with the fence, it looked like the yard could be used as a parking lot and that they had received no request for approval for a parking lot. Schoville concurred and said the Board might want to ensure that the conditions of approval set forth included that all proper permitting be requested and approved before any other types of improvements were undertaken.
Clay Adkinson, representing Adkinson Law Firm for the Planning Board, clarified for the Planning Board members that allowing no site improvements without permits or certificates, were already set out under the special request and need not be duplicated.
Board member Kermit Wright brought to the attention of the Board that in a letter to the city planning department dated Nov. 10, Pastor Jerry. R. Chumley, noted that “The landscape is badly overgrown and will need to be addressed, i.e. trimmed and stump removal.” Schoville responded that there were differing opinions on the tree removal in his office, one being that it was still a single-family residence and the other that it ceased to be, when the property was purchased by FBC. Schoville stated, “At that time, I made the call that the property was not subject, yet, to special requirements where the tree removal was concerned.”
The public hearing was then opened to the audience. Chumley approached the Board. “I just wanted to say that our preschool was growing to the point that we are outgrowing the space that we have and this property became available. We decided to purchase it and hopefully use the space not just for our pre-school, but for our Sunday school, because we’ve outgrown our space, as well. We think it would be good for the kids, families, our community and for our church.
“We also thought we were following the proper steps to do this. It almost sounds like we were trying to slip something by (land clearing), but that is not the case. We felt like undergrowth and such needed to be done and did not think we needed special permission, since it was out property. The wheelchair ramp and the fence was not mentioned because last time we didn’t need that for our property. We found out we needed the certificate of appropriateness and that was achieved when we realized we needed it.” (Schoville later in the meeting concurred that a certificate of appropriateness had been granted and another needed certificate had been renewed.)
John Kinsey approached the Board next, “I don’t come as an expert tonight, but as a resident of DeFuniak Springs and a self appointed ambassador of the historic element of DeFuniak Springs. I grew up in FBC and this is my home and these are my friends. I don’t come here tonight to speak against them. I come very concerned about our historical district. We have a very special un-renewable resource here. I am very concerned in the sense that the very thing they have readily admitted tonight is already outgrowing their building and their infrastructure. They are outgrowing their schools and I am quite confident they will outgrow their new daycare, so, I am just wondering where they are going to go next?
“To me, I am all for growth and am proud and what they are doing, but I want to protect our unrenewable resource. I don’t want anymore parking lots instead of historical homes, or the the bulldozers cranked up to plow down Crescent Street, because we need a new larger building. I want to know what is their plan for one year from now or five or 10 years from now? I want to know. They will grow. God is blessing them and I am proud of that, but not at the cost of our Historic District. People do not come to DeFuniak Springs to see me or Mayor Carpenter, they come to see our beautiful, one-of-a-kind town. They don’t come to see FBC, they come to see our beautiful homes, not parking lots. I am just speaking for the homes that can’t speak for themselves.”
Campbell then opened the discussion back to the board. Schoville reminded the Board that he had approved the project, with special attention paid to the conditions applied under the special request. Wright motioned, after some discussion over the conditions, to approve the plan, emphasizing no changes to the outside of the building. Keturiah Baldwin seconded the motion and the special request went up for a vote. Wright and Baldwin voted yes and Truitt dissented. Campbell did not vote, since he was only allowed to do so if there was a tie vote between the other board members. This issue will now move to the DeFuniak Springs City Council on Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. Mayor Carpenter said that although it was not a scheduled public hearing, the Council would accept input from citizens attending the meeting.