Forsyth County’s planning board on Tuesday recommended a church’s rezoning request for a commercial designation be denied.
In a 4-1 vote, with member Craig Nolen opposed, the board sent its recommendation to the county commission for a final decision July 19.
In doing so, the board suggested other ways that Eastgate Church could achieve its desired results without a rezoning that neighbors oppose.
The church, located on Brookwood Road, wants the commercial rezoning primarily to allow for a backlit sign that it can’t have in its current agricultural zoning.
County commissioners are in the process of reworking the local sign ordinance to carve out exceptions for specific uses, including nonprofits located on certain types of roads.
David Houtsma, a pastor at the church, said the congregation was thankful that the county was making progress in modifying the sign requirements.
“We would like to request that our project be allowed to move forward, but with a change to application so it’s not rezoned as a commercial property, but as a residential-3 property,” Houtsma said.
He said the church still needs the requested variances for parking and buffers, and a Res-3 would allow those as well as future plans for a possible daycare or preschool.
The planning board can only recommend or deny the application as submitted, as well as add conditions. It cannot recommend a different zoning.
The county commission, however, can grant a lower intensity zoning.
Planning board member Jim Kinsey suggested that Eastgate could withdraw its rezoning application, combine the two parcels that make up its property and apply for the variances, which would address the current needs of the church.
Robert Funk, who lives in a nearby subdivision, said while the rezoning was originally presented as being for a sign upgrade, he felt new issues continue to pop up.
“It was all about the sign. But then, oh by the way, while we’re at it, we’re going to change some of the variances,” Funk said. “Clearly, it’s not all about the sign.”
He said the community supports the sign upgrade, but felt a rezoning is unnecessary.
Fellow nearby resident Kristin Morrissey said the possibility of a Res-3 had been proposed only for a few days, therefore the community had not had time to form an opinion. Still, she has some concerns.
“If they ever had to leave the property, if it goes to being Res-3, which to me does not make sense, given the property and the location … you couldn’t really do a subdivision,” said Morrissey, who also serves on the Forsyth County Board of Education.
“It would almost force the next person to come in and rezone the property again.”
She also expressed gratitude for the church, which she said has opened its door for community meetings.