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Church gets preliminary OK from county to build youth center

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By Vicky Gits

The Rock of Southwest Baptist Church came closer Tuesday morning to realizing its plan to add a two-story teen center building after a crucial vote of the Jefferson County commissioners.

After two lengthy public hearings, two of three members of the board voted to endorse a version of the March 26 planning commission decision approving an expansion from 26,000 square feet to about 48,000 square feet of floor area. The church argued that it had the legal right to build up to 63,000 square feet.

As a concession to the neighborhood, the church promised to build a drop-off lane and a parking lot for about 190 cars on 4.4 acres it owns between the church and Westridge Elementary School.

Commissioners Kevin McCasky and Jim Congrove voted yes, while Kathy Hartman voted against.

“This is a travesty on the neighborhood,” Hartman said. “(The approval) will allow a church 10 times as large as any other comparable church inside a neighborhood located a lot more than 500 feet away from a major arterial.

“I have had number of e-mails recently, one who suggested on the anniversary of Columbine that such a youth center would prevent situations such as Columbine. Members of the Faith Bible Chapel know the reality isn’t that simple,” Hartman said.

“I was struck by the testimony of the person who says he gets stuck in traffic jams in his own neighborhood when he tries to go to church,” she said.

McCasky said he reluctantly voted in favor because it was better than the alternative that would be allowed by the zoning without the board’s approval.

“I definitely believe the existing property right would exacerbate conditions,” he said. “I don’t want an appeal of the board of adjustment’s ruling.”

He said the proposal was “out of scale and out of character” with the neighborhood. “I believe the site can handle it, but not the neighborhood.”

McCasky said he was “disheartened” by the amount of “acrimony” between the church and the neighborhood. “I implore the church to reach out to the neighborhood and continue to reach out,” he said.

The proposed teen center on church property, 10393 W. Alamo Place, off Kipling Parkway, has provoked intense controversy among the residents of Westridge and Reflections since the church announced its expansion plan in 2006.

Neighbors turned out in droves to complain about Sunday morning traffic problems associated with the increasingly popular worship center and how a bigger facility would make things worse.

The decision still has to be confirmed in two weeks with another vote after staffers take two weeks to write up a resolution that covers details and conditions involved with the approval. A vote was set for May 7 before the board of county commissioners.