Chapel Expansion Foes Make Case
When considering the possible expansion of The Village Chapel to add a learning center, size apparently matters.
Residents opposing The Village Chapel's plans say they aren't against the concept of expansion or its mission to provide a Christian education program for its congregation, but they question whether the size of the -proposed building is appropriate for that area of the village.
"What the real concern is, the heart of what we are trying to share with you .... (the learning center building) is simply not something that would be appropriate for this location given the scope, scale and size," attorney Nick Herman said at the conclusion of a hearing Tuesday.
Herman represents several residents who are opposed to a 16,500-square-foot learning center proposed by The Village Chapel.
For nearly eight hours over two days, attorneys and witnesses for both The Village Chapel and the opposing homeowners presented their case during a quasi-judicial hearing on the church's request for a major special-use permit. The hearing ended Tuesday after more than three hours of testimony.
The Village Council did not take action on the request after closing the hearing.
"We will not be making any decision now," Mayor Ginsey Fallon said. "We have to wait for the meeting to be transcribed and presented to us so we can consider it, and that will be the place that we make our decision from. It will all be part of the record, and we will look at everything."
In a quasi-judicial hearing, speakers testify under oath and must present only factual evidence. The council can consider only factual evidence when deciding whether or not to issue the permit.
If the council votes to issue a major special-use permit, the church will still be required to obtain approval from the Historic Preservation Commission, along with all other applicable site plan approvals.
The Village Chapel is requesting the permit to build a 16,500-square-foot learning center that will accommodate the growing congregation - which now numbers more than 1,000 adults and children - and serve other community organizations.
During Tuesday's portion of the hearing, Councilman Doug Lapins also raised questions about the size of the project.
"My concern is the size of the edifice " he said. "If somebody says we have to have 16,500 square feet to meet our needs, as we see our needs, then I accept that. But as far as 12,000 will get us there, but let's go for 16,500, that's a different decision process."
Toby Wells, chairman of the chapel's building committee, said that in studying the need for a new building, the church determined that 12,000 square feet isn't large enough.
"We needed to build what is functional space for the programs that could take place at this facility," Wells said.
He added that the goal of the project was simple.
"The basic maxim that I have followed from day one," Wells said, "was that we create a building, that once it is built, and someone came to Pinehurst, who had never been to Pinehurst, and they turned the corner and saw the beauty of our chapel, that they could not choose what was new and what was old."
On Friday, Village Chapel attorney Clyde Holt presented a number of witnesses to provide factual information that the proposed expansion met the requirements of the village of Pinehurst for a special use permit.
Testimony was more subdued Tuesday as the opposition continued to present its case.
Three witnesses spoke, and their arguments centered around three points: the expansion will cause traffic and parking problems, disturb the historical nature of the area, and harm property values and damage the beauty and appearance of the chapel and the surrounding Village Green.
Linda Tufts argued that the building would "degrade" Pinehurst and diminish its beauty.
Larilyn Dirkmaat, a local real estate agent, presented data to the council that she said showed how the value of homes is "significantly diminished" with a large building near them.
Mike McCrann, the third and final opponent to testify, voiced several concerns. He also took issue with the testimony of Tom Keith, the appraiser for the chapel who testified Friday that the new building would not harm property values.
"I do not think, and I do not believe legally, that the presentation by the appraiser meets the standard of proof necessary," he said. "There was no basis for his opinion. He never looked at specific real estate properties. He walked through the area, and he said he had never heard of the problem we face here. In my view - as a landowner, as a lawyer - that will not pass muster under the definition of proof. Just because you have a long resume doesn't mean you don't have to do the work."
Following the opposition's presentation, the floor was opened up to comments from the audience. Many kept their comments brief, often affirming the statements of prior witnesses. Many who signed up to speak Friday either didn't show up for Tuesday's session or left before it was time for them to speak. A majority of those who did speak supported The Village Chapel, which presented its case Friday.
During Friday's meeting, Herman questioned the objectivity of Fallon and council member Mark Parson, because both attend The Village Chapel.
They declined to recuse themselves, and the Village Council ultimately overruled Herman's objection, voting to allow both to remain and hear evidence.
On Friday, more than 50 witnesses signed up to speak either for or against issuing the permit. Few had the opportunity to speak before the hearing was suspended until Tuesday.
Representatives from The Village Chapel said the building will not be used as a secular school, but rather will be a necessary space for the church's education program. They said there are no current plans to limit the uses on the building.
The opposition rgued that without restricting the use of the 1.5-story building - which would have 11 classrooms, a 79-seat theater and eight administrative offices - traffic would increase, contrary to testimony by engineers testifying on behalf of the applicant.
During the hearing, the church said the building would mainly be used on Sundays.
The hearing on the issue was originally scheduled for June 22, but the council had to postpone it until Friday, July 2, because the crowd at the fire station exceeded the maximum allowed by fire code.
The hearing was to be held there because the Village Hall was being used as a polling place for the second primary for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. Friday's meeting was suspended at 5 p.m. after four hours of testimony.
Contact Tom Embrey by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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