Pastors, members plead for ‘religious freedom’

Among those in the standing-room-only crowd Monday morning were members of various churches including Valleydale Baptist, which has been at the center of the zoning controversy from the start.

Many of the residents including Carolyn Brewer pled with the commission.

&uot;I ask you to not hinder or restrict the growth of our church (Valleydale Baptist), so we, as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, can continue to reach out to a hurting world,&uot; she said.

Kenneth Pruitt, a five-year resident of Shelby County, agreed.

&uot;If you do anything to restrict the work of the church, you restrict the work of God,&uot; Pruitt said. &uot;I don’t want to be standing in the way when God decides to move.&uot;

Keith Stanley, one of Valleydale Baptist’s pastors, said objective, not subjective, zoning ordinances are important for Shelby County.

&uot;Let’s just say no to this ordinance before we all regret the moral impact of it,&uot; he said.

Stanley was joined by the Rev. Calvin Kelly of VBC.

&uot;The power to zone churches is the power to destroy churches,&uot; he said.

Pastors from other churches across the county turned out for the commission meeting as well.

The Rev. Rick Ousley of The Church at Brook Hills urged caution in approving an amendment to the zoning ordinance that seemed so subjective.

&uot;It is of grave concern to me that we make the best decision regarding conditional or permitted use recognizing that we don’t have community without church or church without community,&uot; he said. &uot;Regardless of the decision that is made, the God I serve will grow our church. We will not legislate the kingdom of God.&uot;

The Rev. Danny Duvall of the Christian Life Church on Valleydale Road said his concerns centered on the cost for making application to the Planning Commission, which has been estimated at some $50,000, which, he said, for smaller churches could make physical growth impossible.

&uot;I’m not so much concerned about Christian Life’s future because we have momentum … money. But as time keeps moving on, there will be a breakdown of the haves and the cannots,&uot; Duvall said. &uot;A man with only a dream and a vision will be up against a brick wall.&uot;

Larry Morris of the New Day Christian Fellowship agreed.

&uot;Two years ago, we were small. We had no resources. Site plan costs would have been impossible,&uot; Morris said. &uot;This could prohibit most new churches from being able to build.&uot;

Others from the Shelby County community spoke to the commission as well.

Charles Quinn has lived in the county for 22 years.

&uot;This issue is bigger than property values. It’s a part of life, of growth, of change in our community,&uot; Quinn said. &uot;I’m asking you to do the right thing.&uot;

County resident Kenneth Dennis urged the commissioners to vote against the measure.

&uot;What goes on here (in Shelby County) is watched closely by people across the state,&uot; Dennis said.

Dennis offered another suggestion.

&uot;Table this five or 10 years. That will give those in opposition (in favor of conditional zoning for nonresidential uses) time to make enough money to move out of Shelby County,&uot; he said.

Those in favor of conditional zoning were also well represented Monday morning.

A county resident for 23 years, Carl Grant, said he supported the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

&uot;What Planning Commission has done makes a lot of sense,&uot; he said. &uot;The key is residential communication.&uot;

Resident Clyde Wolfe agreed.

&uot;Our opinions about what goes on in our neighborhoods deserve some consideration,&uot; Wolfe said. &uot;I don’t understand why the entities that we depend on to set the standards are not willing to abide by the laws the rest of us must abide by.&uot;

Resident Jack O’Bryan said no one envisioned the sort of growth Shelby County faces.

&uot;We’re not here to stop somebody’s religion. No one envisioned a rape and scrape method of putting in a Wal-Mart-sized parking lot across the street from your home,&uot; he said.

&uot;We have to remember that the church is not the building. It’s the people. But it’s the building that causes the damage,&uot; O’Bryan said