Council action may save church

-A A +A

Officials OK zoning change to allow Trinity Baptist to locate in old cabinet shop

By Chris Sardelli

A local congregation is breathing a sigh of relief now that County Council has given first approval to a zoning change.
More than 30 members of Trinity Baptist Church, who are trying to relocate their church from Fort Mill to a former Van Wyck cabinet shop on Steele Hill Road, packed the audience at County Council’s meeting Tuesday.
The congregation recently discovered that a county zoning regulation, prohibiting religious organizations in industrially zoned buildings, could hinder their plans. They learned of the problem when acquiring a building permit to place a steeple on the building.
Council approved first reading on an ordinance Tuesday to change the zoning of the property from I-2, for heavy industrial districts, to a commercial zoning designation that will allow the church to operate.
Council had considered the B-3, or general commercial, zoning designation, but settled for B-1, a more restrictive commercial designation.
The Rev. Rick Cope, pastor of the church, pleaded with council to rezone the property, prior to the vote.
“This is a very sensitive subject and we know it’s not easy,” Cope said. “The zoning doesn’t matter to us. We just want the church.”
But some residents who live near the property worried about rezoning the property to B-3, which would allow many different types of commercial uses, including most retail or automobile businesses.
Kristen and Michael Perez, who live across from the property, asked council to consider a residential zoning for the property.
“We want it to succeed, but we’re concerned that if something happens, if the church moves, if it dissolves, now we have a B-3 across from us,” Kristen Perez said. “Lots of things could go in there. Adult book stores, nightclubs can go in there. And that’s not conducive to our property.”
Penelope Karagounis, with the county planning department, said the property owner was aware he couldn’t have a church in an industrial zone and he initially refused to have the property rezoned to residential.
“I just want you to know, the planning staff is not anti-church,” Karagounis said. “We did advise him he could go in B-1 or residential, but he wanted to get the most use out of his property.”
Councilman Larry McCullough met with homeowners near the property and other community leaders, and all approved of the church.
He also spoke with the property owner, who decided he was in favor of changing the zoning to B-1, which allows offices for government and institutional groups, as well as limited retail uses.
Council will consider second reading of the ordinance at its Nov. 30 meeting, though the planning commission must review the change and make its recommendation to council before the end of the year.
It will take three readings by council for the change to be approved.
“I’m glad the neighbors are satisfied with a B-1, because, from the e-mails we’ve received, many people are not in favor of B-3 and neither was I,” said Councilman Larry Honeycutt. “I look forward to the church and look forward to coming up to the service.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or (803) 416-8416