Unable to agree on the appropriate number of students for a private Christian school near Oxford, the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to table a proposal to expand the number of students at Providence Christian School Tuesday night.
Debate on how many students should be allowed to attend the school, which is run by Crosspointe Baptist Church, at some points veered into a discussion of the role of the board in determining the appropriate amount of growth for a religious institution with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson saying "unfortunately, there's a separation of church and state."
In its application, Crosspointe sought a modification to the original conditional use permit that allowed the church to open its school in 2005.
The church is seeking an increase to the maximum number of students allowed from 75 to 250 and permission to build a 10,000 square-foot building to serve as a second school building on Byrd Road.
Darrell Head, a church elder, spoke on behalf of the petition, saying that the school would grow gradually over time. Head said the school anticipated between 100 and 120 student enrollment for the 2008-2009 school year.
According to the school's Web site, Providence Christian School's goal is to become a pre-K through 12th grade school. The school teaches classical methodology with an emphasis on Latin instruction. The school and church, along with an activities complex are located on a 65-acre tract of land.
Crosspointe's application has faced opposition from many residents on Byrd Road. In a letter to the BOC, Byrd Road resident Daron Bates asked the board to deny the petition on the grounds that the church's long range goals of a 2,000 seat church with a 600-student school were not appropriate for the quiet residential street.
Byrd Road is an unclassified county road. Speaking before the BOC, Byrd Road resident Janie Lee, who opposes the school's continued expansion, described the road as narrow and winding with several blind driveways and tight curves.
"Adding hundreds of vehicles a day will do much more than produce unmanageable traffic congestion," Lee said. "It will introduce a significant safety hazard to the residents and the zoning applicants."
If the expansion was allowed to take place, Lee warned that the road would eventually have to be widened by the county to accommodate traffic and safety demands.
"The traffic would increase from hundreds of additional vehicles per month to potentially thousands," Lee said.
Lee also speculated about the future of the church complex, should another split in the church occur or should it become financially insolvent. The former pastor of Oxford Baptist Church, Alan Posey, left Oxford Baptist to form the new church of Crosspointe several years ago.
"Would Byrd Road residents then be fighting re-zoning to keep prospective purchasers of the complex from buying and adapting the complex for commercial use," Lee asked. "This is certainly not an unrealistic reach, as there are many examples to point to around the country."
Commercial lighting and loud noise from a Christmas fireworks display were listed by Byrd Road residents as a negative effect of the school and church. An uncompromising attitude on the part of church officials to residents' complaints of the noise was also listed.
Crosspointe Pastor Alan Posey offered an apology to the residents in attendance at Tuesday night's meeting.
"This is a heartfelt, not a strategic apology," Posey said. "Probably we have had a bad attitude to some of the neighbors for which I need to ask for forgiveness."
When it came time for a vote the BOC could not come to a consensus on how many students to approve, though it was apparent the consensus was to approve the petition. The majority of commissioner votes indicated that they were in favor of approving an expansion of between 150 and 200 students.
District 5 Commissioner Monty Laster, whose district includes the church and school, made a motion to approve the 10,000 square-foot building and an expansion up to 150 students. Laster's motion did not include a recommendation made by the Newton County Planning Department that a left-turn lane be added to the entrance of the complex on Byrd Road.
District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming disagreed with Laster's motion and made a motion to award the school its requested 250 student maximum.
"It's hard for me to turn down any kind of growth with the church," Fleming said, adding "this board has approved developments a whole lot larger on state highways."
Henderson said he thought 250 students might be a bit much and offered a compromise motion of 200 students. District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons seconded Henderson's motion but the motion failed to get a third vote in favor and failed.
Laster's 150 student motion was seconded by District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing but failed to gain a third vote and so also failed.
Fleming's 250 student motion failed to get a second vote and died.
Failing to come to a consensus the board voted 3-2 to table the resolution until May with Laster and Fleming opposing. Ewing urged the church and neighborhood residents to get together with Laster and come up with a compromise agreement before the resolution was brought forward again.
"It needs to be a meeting of the minds with the church, community and Mr. Laster," Ewing said. "I would hope that in 30 days we could resolve this issue."
On Thursday Lee said while she was still against the expansion of the school she would be willing to go along with an expansion to 150 students.
"I really don't want anything else done to the street," Lee said. "I don't think it's fair that they're doing this whole expansion on this tiny street and we don't have a choice."