Proposed Grays Hill church fellowship hall shot down again

kpeterson@beaufortgazette.comDecember 5, 2011 

Plans for a new fellowship hall at Grays Hill Baptist Church have again been rejected by a county review board because of development restrictions on property surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

The Beaufort County Planning Commission voted 6-2 Monday to uphold a 2007 staff decision denying the project.

But church leaders, steeled by years of litigation, say they will appeal in court.

The church wants to build a 10,000-square-foot fellowship hall on about 10 acres it owns off Trask Parkway, but the property lies in a zone surrounding the air station that carries special restrictions because of the potential for aircraft accidents.

One such provision only allows expansions if they don't increase a church's "occupant load."

County fire code official Tim Ogden said the fire ordinance would treat the new fellowship hall as a separate building with its own capacity.

Fred Kuhn, the church's lawyer, said the fellowship hall would not be occupied at the same time as the existing sanctuary. He said the church simply wants space for meals and other events. Thus, he argued, the occupants would be the same people.

"You cannot interpret these words in a vacuum," Kuhn said. "You've got to look at what we want to build and what we're going to use it for."

Mary Lohr, an attorney for the county, argued there would be no way to enforce the building's use, especially since the church might have different owners in the future.

Board members Diane Chmelik and E. Parker Sutler voted in favor of the church's request.

Kuhn said the church included the fellowship hall on original plans submitted to the county in the late 1990s, and he said county officials told church members the building would be grandfathered in when the restricted zone was put in place.

Sutler seemed swayed by those arguments. He said the probability seemed small that a plane would hit the church.

"It's probably one in a gazillion. With it sitting right in the glide path, it brings it down to one in a bazillion," Sutler said. "The odds are infinitesimal that it'll happen."

Board member Robert Semmler said he was concerned about setting precedent and encouraging other building in the restricted zone.

"To me, it boils down to one fact," said board member Edward Riley. "Either you enforce the ordinance, or you don't enforce the ordinance."

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Grays Hill church dispute sent back to county planning board, Dec. 3, 2011

Church sues county over fellowship hall, May 16, 2011

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