By RON KELLEY
Rev. Rob West, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of DeFuniak Springs appeared before the city Planning Board to answer question regarding the church’s request for an exception to the rule governing the use of an empty lot behind the church on Crescent Avenue.
Rev. West explained that the church wants to institute a daycare and after-school program and offer a summer programs at the church, which is located within a residential district. The empty lot would be used for loading and offloading children from busses and private vehicles.
Planning Board member Jim Harmon had questions concerning traffic safety and suggested a separate entry and exit to improve the flow of vehicles and increase safety. Rev. West assured him they would do that and said that was one of the reasons why the church chose the empty lot over the parking lot across the street on Circle Drive. West said Crescent Street has less traffic and is safer and easier to cross.
Resident Ben Irvine, who lives on Crescent Street next to the empty lot, said he has no objection to the children’s programs, but said he is sandwiched between the First Methodist Church and First Baptist Church (which operates daycare facilities and a school). “I moved to DeFuniak Springs because I wanted a peaceful, quiet place to live. Kids are kids. They yell and shout while they’re playing, but these activities infringe on me.”
Irvine related a recent example of being forced to close his windows and doors because of the noise from the children. Irvine also expressed concerns about maintaining the integrity of the city’s historic district. “It’s sad when you continue to sell our historic district down the river.”
Harmon asked if a privacy fence between the church’s property and his would be helpful. Irvine replied that, if the request were approved, a fence would be “a must.”
Another resident, Shirley Penn, addressed the board and said, “First and foremost, we have to consider what is best for the children. If we can’t see that, we’re a sorry lot.”
After discussion with City Planner Greg Scoville, Harmon motioned to approve the church’s request provided they complete and implement a circulation plan for the drop-off point, install a 6-foot privacy fence between the lot and Irvine’s property and install appropriate landscaping. Board member Kermit Wright seconded the motion.
It passed unanimously. The issue will now go before the DeFuniak Springs City Council for final approval.