United Methodist Church expansion plans don't fit Old Town, Bluffton panel says

dburley@islandpacket.comFebruary 5, 2014 

methodist

An artist’s rendering of initial proposed additions, secondary wings on both sides, to the Bluffton United Methodist Church.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

A $1.4-million plan to double the seating capacity of the Bluffton United Methodist Church didn't receive the blessing of a town panel Wednesday night.

The Historic Preservation Commission worried the Calhoun Street church's plan to add two, 20-foot wings to make room for a congregation of more than 300 would create a looming presence set too close to the street.

"You're talking about building an addition that will make it bigger than anything else on the street," commission chairman James Brown said. "The symmetry will be blown out of proportion."

Church leader and architect William Court countered that the church had exhausted other options. He said building a balcony wouldn't provide enough seating, while adding an addition to the back of the structure would put members too far from the pulpit. The addition proposal would also add more music facilities.

Court said the congregation "heavily favored this plan." The vote for it was nearly 200 votes to two, he said.

"We believe expanding to the left and right, keeping with traditional church style rather than a shotgun look, would be far more pleasing," he said.

The congregation has grown "off the charts" in recent years, Court said.

Commission members were sympathetic with the need to expand. But some said the building -- a contributing structure in the historic district -- shouldn't be altered.

"I can't go along with blowing out the sides and bringing it to the sidewalk," commissioner Hank McCracken said. "I don't think that's the way to treat an historic structure."

Commissioners didn't vote on the plan Wednesday and asked Court and fellow architect James Atkins to return with a revised proposal. A date for that meeting was not set.

The expansion proposal is part of a wider, long-term effort by the church.

Court and the congregation also are working with Bluffton resident Garfield Moss to relocate the century-old Graves House, which the church owns. The house will be moved from its current location on Calhoun to Moss' property on Lawrence and Wharf streets.

Court said the church would build a community room with classrooms and meeting space on the current Graves site.

Moss has until June 30 to complete the relocation, according to the town, and must finish rehabilitation by June 30, 2015.

No moving date for the house has been set, Court said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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