Grays Hill church dispute sent back to county planning board

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Grays Hill church dispute sent back to county planning board

By KYLE PETERSON
kpeterson@beaufortgazette.com
Published Saturday, December 3, 2011   |  404 Words  |  

Grays Hill Baptist Church representatives will again make their case for a new fellowship hall to a county planning board that voted against the proposal about four years ago.

Steve Blankenship, chairman of the church's trustees, says he expects dozens of members to attend the meeting on Monday to show support for the project.

The church's online newsletter urges the congregation to pray for a favorable outcome.

But Blankenship says he's not sure what to expect when the Beaufort County Planning Commission reconsiders the issues.

Church leaders appealed the commission's 2007 decision denying approval for the project, and this summer Beaufort County Master-in-Equity Marvin Dukes III ordered the group to re-hear the case, according to a memo from county attorney Josh Gruber.

Further, Gruber wrote, the court instructed the board to begin anew, which means "no member of the commission should have a preconceived opinion on this matter and should listen to the arguments of both sides as if they were being presented for the first time."

The church wants to build a 10,000-square-foot fellowship hall on about 10 acres its owns off Trask Parkway, but the property lies within a zone surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort that carries special restrictions because of the potential for aircraft accidents.

One provision, cited when the church's permit was denied in 2007, allows expansions only if they don't increase the building's "occupant load." County staff argued the provision was intended to allow for new restrooms or storage, but not additional space like the new hall "that could allow more people to be in harm's way."

Church representatives have argued that the fellowship hall is meant to serve existing members, not an expanded congregation. In addition, they said church attendance averages only about half of the current sanctuary's rated capacity.

Blankenship estimated the church had spent about $30,000 on legal fees related to the dispute and probably will appeal again if the commission rules against it.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content::

Planning Commission background information, Dec. 5, 2011

Church sues county over fellowship hall, May 16, 2011