Zoning petition of church site included on agenda

Published 12:10 am Thursday, March 9, 2023

After being continued from last month’s City-County Planning Board agenda, the zoning petition of New Hope Presbyterian Church from RS-40 (residential) to LB-L (limited business) is back on the docket for today’s (March 9) meeting.
The case to be heard, which has drawn strong resistance from Harper Road Neighbors — with signs lined up along the road along with some 500 residents signing a petition in opposition — involves a proposed move by Clemmons Gymnastics to the site of the church.
Chris Murphy, who is director of the Planning & Development Services Department, confirmed that the limited-use rezoning requested by the petitioner (the current owner, New Hope Presbyterian Church) will be heard by the Planning Board today at 4:30 p.m. on the fifth floor of the Bryce Stuart Municipal Building in downtown Winston-Salem.
Murphy said that the staff was recommending denial prior to the request by the petitioner for a continuance before the Planning Board meeting on Feb. 9.
“In and of itself, the use is fine, but the vast majority of the uses in that area are residential,” Murphy said at the time. “So staff doesn’t believe that it is appropriate to introduce commercial zoning along Harper Road when you’re one to one and a half miles away from any other commercial zoning. So from a staff perspective, we’re recommending denial.”
However, regardless of the staff recommendation and Planning Board vote, the final say will ultimately come from the elected body — the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.
Setting the agenda last Friday for today’s meeting for Zoning Docket F-1626 and the special-use limited rezoning included the release of the City-County Planning Board Draft Staff Report and more details regarding the proposal involving the church property on 6.21 acres with a site currently developed with a large church building, parking lots and a recreation field.
In the petition information, it is stated in the proposal in the staff report that the petitioner is requesting the following uses: Recreation Services, Indoor.
One of the questions posed was if the proposal was consistent with the statements of the requested zoning district with the following reply in the report: “No, the parcel is located within a residential area and is not located at a major intersection. There are no neighborhood shopping and service centers located in the vicinity. The proposed district does not serve as a transition between land uses.”
In the next section under general site information, a question raised was if the use permitted under the proposed classification/request was compatible with uses permitted on other properties in the vicinity: “No, the proposed commercial use would be incompatible with the surrounding single-family homes. The closest commercial area is located at Peace Haven Village Shopping Center, located 1.2 miles southeast of the site.”
The site access and transportation information included the following analysis: “This site has frontage along Harper Road, a two-lane facility with ample capacity. Although sufficient vehicular capacity exists along this section of Harper Road, staff has concerns that the proposed Gymnastics Academy will attract customers from outside the neighborhood and significantly increase traffic in the area during events. To address those concerns, the Gymnastics Academy should consider traffic management strategies to ensure that additional vehicles will not overwhelm the area during these events.”
Regarding conformity to plans and planning issues, relevant Legacy 2030 recommendations include: “Discourage inappropriate commercial encroachment into neighborhoods” and “Protect residential areas from inappropriate commercial and industrial encroachment” along with: “Ensure appropriate transitional land uses or physical buffering between residential and nonresidential uses to maintain the character and stability of neighborhoods.”
Here’s a written comment offered by the Village of Clemmons, which borders this unincorporated tract in Forsyth County, “expressing concern over the amount of traffic that would be generated from the proposed use throughout the week and weekend. The previous church use had a minimal impact, with most of its traffic generated on Sunday mornings. The proposed use, while potentially being a good idea for the adaptive reuse of the facility, would add additional traffic in a residential area.”
Under other applicable plans and planning issues, it was stated: “It is the opinion of the county attorney that the proposed site would not likely be found as an illegal zoning by the courts. This conclusion is based namely on the scale of the already existing structure and parking on-site, which distinguishes this site from the other RS-40 zoning in the area.”
In conclusions to assist with its recommendation, the report said a positive aspect of the proposal was “the request would allow for the reuse of a developed site,” and these were negative aspects for the proposal: “The request would introduce commercial zoning into a residential area. The proposed rezoning could promote future commercial expansion in the vicinity. The proposed use could lead to a significant increase in traffic in the area.”
As for site-specific recommended conditions of approval, including the following conditions proposed by the petitioner to reduce negative off-site impacts of the proposed use, these items were listed:
• The use Recreation Services, Indoor shall be further limited to Gymnastics Instruction as classified under SIC 7999 (Amusement and Recreation, NEC).
• No additional freestanding signs shall be constructed on-site.
• No additional buildings shall be constructed or placed on-site, and additions that are cumulatively greater than 15,000 square feet in size shall be prohibited.
• No additional outdoor lighting shall be installed on-site.
The report concluded with the staff recommendation of denial.
In addition to the staff report, the final package of documents for Zoning Docket F-1626 also included maps and other memos, correspondence and emails along with letters of support and in opposition from both sides.