Opposition to a plan to build a church on Main Street Extension adjacent to Swansboro Municipal Park can be found among members of the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
In recent emails to the mayor and commissioners, two members listed concerns. In both, town commissioners were asked to give the park board an opportunity to review and comment on the proposal in an official capacity.
Church officials want to build a 16,000-square-foot church on a 2.15-acre parcel at 820 Main Street Extension, adjacent to Municipal Park. The church is permitted by special-use on the property, which is zoned residential-8 single-family.
First presented to the Swansboro Planning Board in March, the request was tabled due to a couple of concerns, including appearance. Church officials finally returned with a plan on June 3 – with nothing changed except for the number of parking spaces – and the planning board recommended denial.
While the planning board – which acts in an advisory capacity to the board of commissioners – agreed unanimously that the church is allowed by special use in the R8-SF district, the board did not support three of the other four special-use questions.
The board voted unanimously against a claim that the special use “would not materially endanger the public health or safety if located where proposed and developed according to the plan as submitted and approved.”
The board voted 5-1 in favor of a statement that the special use “would not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property or the special use is a public necessity.”
The board voted unanimously against a claim “that the special use that the location and character of the special use, if developed according to the plan as submitted and approved, would be in harmony with the area in which it is located.”
Also the board voted unanimously against the claim: “the special use would demonstrate conformance to the land-use plan or other plan in effect at the time and address impacts of the project as required” by statute.
Despite the lack of endorsement from the planning board, church officials pressed ahead and requested the board of commissioners consider the SUP request at their June 25 meeting. Due to scheduling conflicts with church officials though, the church asked the request be delayed until the July 23 commission meeting, according to Andrea Correll, town planner. (Commissioners decided to cancel the regularly scheduled meeting of July 9.)
A resident of the nearby Deer Run subdivision, James Morrell, did attend the June 25 meeting to speak on the church plans. And even though the request for the SUP had been pulled from the agenda, Morrell spoke to commissioners about speeding traffic on Main Street Extension.
Also in attendance at the meeting were members of the Swansboro Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, there to be honored by proclamation.
One of the board members, P.J. Pugliese, is a resident of Deer Run and in an email he sent to the mayor and commissioners, he mentioned that he and Morrell discussed the church proposal at the June 26 meeting. The other park board member who emailed elected officials was Dusty Rhodes.
Of Morrell, Pugliese said, “He is one of several town residents who have, unprovoked, shared their views with me on this matter.”
While Pugliese said he had hoped to learn more about the request at the June 25 meeting, he also said there are already certain aspects of the project that concern him.
“(It) is my understanding that they are proposing to erect a large metal building the size of the civic center on a strip of land maybe half the size,” Pugliese states in the email. “I am not sure if there is an updated Gateway Vision plan out there. The only one I could find is from January 2009. I know this plan doesn’t directly apply to this issue but I think the philosophies in it are still applicable. I am confident that the town would not want a new large metal building to be built on Hwy. 24. So, why would we want one crammed into a small space, on an already busy road, next to a subdivision, and possibly having a negative impact on our flagship recreational facility?”
Pugliese notes that his concerns are not only from the standpoint of a Deer Run resident, but also as a member of the park board.
“Additionally, as a member of the Parks and Rec Advisory Board I see a number of red flags as well. The One Harbor Church in Morehead City has a playground behind it. With the limited space here in Swansboro I can only deduce that one will not be included in the proposed plan,” he writes. “If they tie into the park’s sidewalks it just shows they intend to use ours.
“Of course parking is one of the biggest issues. A growing church that size will not be able to meet their own parking needs. That burden will be placed on the town’s parking lot at the park and it concerns me what impact that will have on the patrons who are trying to come to the park to recreate.”
Safety – and the potential for church members to park along Main Street Extension – is another issue raised by Pugliese. “Even with a reduced speed limit this will pose a risk to people getting in/out of their vehicles,” he explained.
Finally, Pugliese suggested the park board be given an opportunity to review the plan.
“I do find it odd that the impacts that this project will have on our park have not been presented to us in any way,” he writes. “I encourage you to not let this project circumvent the processes that this town has in place. The board is appointed for a reason and that is to advise. Please encourage the leaders of this project to allow us to do so. I see no value in skipping what I view as a crucial step.”
“I truly feel like we have an absolute gem of a town and I implore you as the governing body of this town to take a long hard look at this project’s impact,” he concludes. “As it stands now it does not fit the architectural aesthetics of the town nor does it present a positive situation for our most beloved park.”
Rhodes, who also made it a point to mention that he was interested in the hearing on the One Harbor permit request, had words of the praise for the church itself.
“First off, let me say that I love that this church is here and all the good they are doing for our community and spreading the word of God,” he said in the email. “This church continues to reach people and outgrow its facilities. However, the new proposed building and location is a big problem. This is a mega church made for 400 people and enough parking spaces for a third of the congregation. That makes an already very congested and problematic road an even bigger problem, especially for parks and recreation.”
Rhodes writes that while the church is proposing a building similar in size to the Rotary Civic Center, it will have a parking lot about the size of Hardees.
“We have one of the nicest parks around and it is used everyday by hundreds of people,” Rhodes writes. “I myself frequent this park on Saturdays and Sundays with my dog and foster kids. It is very hard to find a parking space because everyone wants to be here at our facilities. That is a good problem to have. If you allow a church of this size to build next to the park we will start losing patrons to the park due to the church taking over the parking lot. This is not fair to citizens.”
Like Pugliese, Rhodes was disappointed that the church was proposing to construct a metal building. That would run contrary to past actions. For an example, he referred to his neighborhood.
“I live in the Charleston Park subdivision,” Rhodes states in the email. “There is commercial property at the front of that neighborhood. Staff worked hard to make that building look like it belonged to our neighborhood. It is a beautiful facility.” He goes to say the same was true of Municipal Park. “Years ago when the parks and rec building was being constructed, staff worked very hard to provide a building that fit this beautiful coastal community. There is no reason, if this church is going to be built, that this building should not match the town and its architecture.”
Rhodes notes in his email the fact that Swansboro Planning Board recommended against granting the special-use permit. And, he urges the town to allow the park board an opportunity to consider the plans.
“I would like this board to seriously consider the message you are sending to citizens if you allow this church to build without the recommendation of the planning board and review by parks and recreation board (something that will affect the park this much should be reviewed by the park and rec board),” he writes. “You are saying the processes in place do not matter. You are also saying business is more important than the citizens by allowing a church to take over the park and parking lot facilities because that is ultimately what will happen. Please rely on the planning board and trust the process.”
So far, there has been no official answer from the town commissioners or the mayor to the request for a park board review, according to Paula Webb, interim town manager.
Should town commissioners consider the plan July 23 as requested by the church it will include a change from the plan submitted to the planning board June 3, according to Correll.
A revised parking plan was submitted on June 17. On June 3, the church presented a plan for 168 parking spaces, which was a substantial increase from the 94 in the original plan submitted in March.
Under the most recent plan, Correll said the church is asking for 133 parking spaces, “as required,” and 69 of those are pervious.
There are “isolated wetlands” on the property, according to information provided by the church.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.