Planners vote yes on Valleydale Baptist’s new church

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Valleydale Baptist Church finally received unanimous approval on its plans to build a new church on 44-acres surrounded by neighborhoods along Valleydale Road. The decision, however, came with 15 stipulations restricting the church’s actions at the site.

The vote came after months of debate on whether churches in zoned portions of unincorporated Shelby County should be considered a conditional use.

The debate focused largely on Valleydale’s plans to build a church, capable of ministering to more than 3,000 people, further down Valleydale Road.

The planning commission and the county commission both voted in recent weeks to approve an amendment to Shelby County’s regulations making churches, along with schools and parks, a conditional and not a permitted use.

Commissioners heard from neighbors and representatives of Valleydale for more than three hours at Monday’ night’s planning meeting before finally voting on the plans.

The church plans to build its 190,000-square-foot building in four phases with 330,000 square feet of internal floor space.

The project, sprawling over a high ridge on the site, will include a gym, a worship area, an educational facility and recreation space including a ballfield and possibly a future park.

Most neighbors of the adjoining subdivisions &045; Valdawood, Jameswood, Indian Valley Lake Estates and Shadowbrook &045; requested at the meeting that the planning commission place certain conditions on the church’s plans.

The 15 conditions included:

* Lighting be minimized at the church’s parking lot so adjoining properties are not disturbed.

* Blasting analysis, which includes any impact on adjacent structures, be submitted before work begins.

* Blasting be restricted to the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

* No lighting be allowed on athletic fields.

* Blasting plans be submitted to any neighbor who lives within 500 feet of any portion of the property.

* No blasting on Sunday.

* Certain vegetation be planted around the edges of the parking pods.

* Surface parking be allowed only on the original master

plan. If the church chooses to have underground parking they would need to resubmit another set of plans to the planning commission.

* The number of parking spaces at the site be reduced from the 1,873 requested to only 1,500. Any more spaces added would be subject to planning commission approval.

* 100-foot buffers be maintained with 50 percent natural and undisturbed and 50 percent planted in similar vegetation.

* Any park or parklike equipment would be subject to the 100-foot buffers mentioned above.

* No vehicular access from the adjoining subdivision roads, Clearview Drive, Lakeside Drive and Indian Lake Drive.

* A K-12 school not be permitted on the site.

* A bond must be established for use toward a potential stoplight at the main entrance across from the Jameswood Subdivision.

* Any temporary (tents, etc.) or portable buildings would need review and approval by the planning commission.

Before the vote, William McKenna, of Valdawood subdivision, said the neighbors want to know beforehand

of Valleydale’s plans for future use on the property.

&uot;I think they’ll be good neighbors. They made us a number of promises, but we need to get (the conditions) in writing,&uot; McKenna said.

A neighbor of Valleydale’s current church, Clyde Wolfe, spoke in opposition to approving all of Valleydale’s master plan.

Wolfe gave the planning commissioners a copy of Valleydale’s master plan some 10 years ago and noted the changes at their current location not listed including several portable buildings and a large tent similar to

those used at Bruno’s golf tournament held at Greystone.

&uot;If you go ahead and approve this over the next 10 years and you think the end result will look like this,&uot; Wolfe said pointing to the current plans, &uot;you are wrong … If you think you have some upset people now, I promise you haven’t seen nothing yet.&uot;

Eric Johnston, an attorney for Valleydale Baptist, said the church made a number of concessions and agreed to many of the neighbors’ stipulations.

Johnston noted the church agreed to remove less land and reduce the blasting originally called for in the master plan.

&uot;This project fits where it needs to fit &045; it fits in this area. We know the neighbors have concerns, and we can’t satisfy everybody,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;We have done our best.

&uot;If the conditions are reasonable, we can work with them. We have demonstrated already we can work with our neighbors,&uot; Johnston said.

&uot;Unfortunately, not everybody feels the same way about churches. Some churches are big and a lot of people go to them. There are 11 churches on this road,&uot; Johnston said.

&uot;Valleydale Baptist is not the problem on this road. If we weren’t there, something else would develop that traffic.&uot;

After the vote, Keith Stanley, an administrative pastor for Valleydale Baptist Church, said he was relieved the decision was finally made.

&uot;We are very appreciative of the planning commission’s decision, and we are looking forward to developing the property. We are also looking forward to a long and good relationship with our new neighbors &045; both contiguous and in the neighborhoods,&uot; Stanley said. &uot;Ten years from now, I think everyone will agree this was a good decision and the community will benefit for our ministries.&uot;

Stanley said his main concern was the reduction in parking space but said he was thankful an appeals process would be allowed.

Johnston said his biggest concern with the stipulations was the fact that Valleydale would not be able to develop a school on the site.

&uot;To tell a church what ministries they can or cannot have is a repulsive thought. It’s against the Alabama Constitution. It’s against the American Constitution. For Mr. (Russ) Hale to say that is totally repulsive.&uot;

Stanley, however, said Valleydale has no plans for a school on the site.

Planning Commission chairman Russ Hale said he felt the planning commission, after months of work and a new amendment to the law making church use conditional in zoned areas of the county, achieved their goal of allowing a public forum.

&uot;I would hope our actions reasonably satisfied the concerns of both parties. Democracy is about compromise and both sides seem to accept that,&uot; he said. As far as Johnston’s contention regarding restricting a school on the site, Hale said anyone wishing to construct a school must first include their wishes for one in the master plans.

&uot;I’m not against schools. If they would like to have a school, they need to state that in their plans,&uot; Hale said.

Also at the meeting, a much smaller church, North Shelby Church of Christ received unanimous approval to build a 3,112-square-foot facility capable of seating 82 people.

Commissioners spoke favorably of the church’s plans after Ray Davis, a North Shelby spokesperson, said the church had waited for months for the approval pending the recent zoning change