Village Chapel During Coronavirus

The Rev. Ashley Neil Smith delivers his Sunday sermon in front of empty pews at the Village Chapel in Pinehurst on March 22, 2020. The church is live-streaming its services for members.

After three hours spent discussing a revised set of conditions for the project on Tuesday night, the PInehurst Village Council unanimously approved a request from the Village Chapel for a rezoning that will allow it to expand.

Tuesday’s discussion was continued from the Village Council’s July 14 meeting, when about half a dozen residents — all but one in favor — spoke during a public hearing on the rezoning request and proposed expansion.

The 4.5-acre church campus will continue to be zoned Public Conservation, but will now fall under a conditional zoning district. A series of conditions that the Village Council and Village Chapel representatives agreed to by the end of Tuesday’s meeting will allow the church to add a one-and-a-half story Christian education center on its campus to the east of the main chapel building.

The new Heritage Hall building, which church leaders hope to see complete by late 2021, will have a footprint of 7,200 square feet. The new building will have six classrooms and a recreation area on the ground floor with an unfinished upper level for now. It will allow the church to hold Sunday School classes for both children and adults on its campus, and will also host youth meetings and other fellowship activities.

Currently, children are partitioned off in one room in the church’s administration building for Sunday School, while adult classes are held half a mile away in the Care Cottage.

Through the conditional rezoning process, the church and the village have negotiated the aspects of the project that deviate from the rules Pinehurst’s Development Ordinance outlines for the Public Conservation district. The Village Chapel, originally built in 1924 and most recently expanded in 1991, is already out of compliance and “grandfathered” under some of those ordinances.

“The reason we’re spending all this time is to do the right things with your project on your behalf but also for the Village Council and the residents of Pinehurst. You’ve known that from the get-go with your project,” Mayor John Strickland said before the Village Council voted on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of details, and there might have been a better way to sort those out earlier on in the process, but the council – since you’ve made your presentations and have been keeping us up-to-date on this project for a while – has felt that we needed to get ourselves deeply involved and try to make the decisions we need to make for the village and for yourselves.”

The list of nine conditions that the Village Council set in approving the rezoning include a waiver of the Pinehurst Development Ordinance’s five-acre minimum site requirement for religious institutions; and a list of allowed uses pared down from what’s normally permitted in the Public Conservation district.

Chief among the exceptions that the Village Council approved for the Village Chapel’s new site plan is an allowance for the church to cover up to 31 percent of its property in impervious surfaces. Buildings, hard walkways and paved parking lots and driveways impenetrable to water all count toward that total.

Originally, the church requested an allowance of up to 33 percent impervious surface, but as it is the church is already well over the 12 percent typically allowed in the Public Conservation district. As it stands, 22 percent of the church campus is covered in impervious surface.

Project architect Pete Bogle said that the 31 percent impervious surface allocation will give the church 2,360 square feet of leeway over what it has planned to add to the property.

Councilwoman Jane Hogeman initially suggested limiting the project to the 29.8 percent impervious surface proposed, but later voted with the rest of the council to approve the 31 percent allowance.

Minor adjustments to the site plan approved on Tuesday can go forward with review from village staff as long as they don’t put the project over the 31 percent allocation.

“I don’t have a problem with going to 31 percent because, No. 1, I think you guys have been pretty good stewards throughout this entire process and before. I think you appreciate your property, I don’t think you’re going to go hog wild trying to put in impervious surfaces, and so I’m okay with giving you the wiggle room that you need,” said Councilwoman Lydia Boesch.

The Village Council viewed an updated site plan of the church campus, including the new building and redesigned driveways, which would add a total of 15,000 square feet of hard surface to the property.

A decade ago, the church had even bigger plans – and received village approval to build a 17,000-square-foot learning center. That proposal was scrapped due to a division within the congregation.

An updated site plan also depicted the Village Chapel’s informal parking situation, which once the addition is complete will include about 20 paved spaces and room for another 100 vehicles on pine straw around the perimeter of the church’s property.

The Village Council also agreed to waive the requirement for the Village Chapel to install public sidewalks along the edge of its campus. Under the existing requirements for PC zoning, the church would have to install a five-foot-wide concrete walkway around the perimeter of the new development.

Council members also discussed how to lay the groundwork for future discussions of pedestrian paths around the church campus, but decided against it since council members aren’t in favor of hard sidewalks near the historic Village Green.

“In 30 or 40 years you’ll have different parties who will be figuring out the betterment of what they want, that’s why we don’t need to immortalize it,” said Councilwoman Judy Davis.

Council members did agree that any walking path that the village might install on the church’s property in the future won’t be counted toward its impervious surface total. Originally, Hogeman and Davis said they weren’t in favor of that suggestion, but in all likelihood any such walkways would be sand or another permeable surface.

“I don’t think we should be sitting here today speculating about putting in sidewalks that would be an enormous change that hasn’t gone through (the Historic Preservation Commission), hasn’t gone through Planning and Zoning, that would add to the stormwater problem and that would detract from parking capacity,” said Hogeman.

The village is also requiring the church to install underground stormwater catchment basins, designed for a 25-year rainfall event, to deal with additional runoff from that new impervious surface. Pinehurst already requires that developers account for runoff from new impervious surfaces in the stormwater mitigation plans for any project, but the ordinance only requires those mitigation measures to account for a “once in a decade” storm.

Pinehurst will also relax its requirement for one-to-one replacement of each tree uprooted over the course of the project. The Village Chapel’s new building and redesigned driveways are expected to displace about 55. The Village Council originally considered requiring that 25 of them be replaced elsewhere on the site.

But in light of the number and relative density of trees on the site already, council members elected on Tuesday to require that the church replace 12 longleaf pines.

“I think what we’re trying to do is frame the buildings; we’re not trying to obliterate our view of the buildings,” said Hogeman.

In approving the church’s conditional rezoning, the village also set standards for vegetative buffers around the parking area and the 1,400 square foot play area planned off of the new building’s east side. As one of the rezoning conditions, the village has required that the play area have a porous surface rather than pavement, and no permanent play structure.

Heritage Hall itself will be situated to the east of the Village Chapel’s main sanctuary.

While the buffer around the play area will meet PDO standards, the project will be exempt from requirements to plant a buffer along Village Green East. Instead, the church will plant a similar level of understory trees and shrubbery along the east facade of Heritage Hall.

The Village Council has also stipulated that lighting added for the parking lot be “dark skies” compliant, and no pole lighting will be placed at a height greater than 16 feet.

“At the end of the day, we prefer the property not be lit any more than we see it today,” said Strickland.

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