WOODSTOCK - A Woodstock church plans to break ground on a newer, bigger facility on Springfield Drive near Ga. Highway 92, and is getting closer although neighbors across the street from the site have publicly opposed it.

Dwelling Place Church, which has about 300 members in its congregation, is seeking to buy three parcels totaling 5.36 acres, most of which is zoned for commercial use and the rest is low-density residential. The church, currently located at 110 Londonderry Ct., reports an average of 200 attendees for each of its two Sunday morning services. There are also services on Thursday evenings.

If the church closes on the property, they plan to build their new facilities in three phases, eventually having three buildings and accompanying parking built out over time. The largest building at 9,000 square feet would be built first, followed by a 7,500 square foot and an 8,000 square foot building. The biggest gathering space is planned to have 500 seats, said Chad Craig, lead pastor at the church. There was no timeline set for each of the building phases as of Thursday.

Dwelling Place's request, presented to planning commissioners Thursday, is to rezone the small residential portion of their property to match the rest, and variances for parking. Instead of three spaces per 1,000 square feet, the church requests a parking space for 2.5 seats in the main assembly area. Church representatives said they would also enter a parking agreement with the city.

Commissioners recommended approval of the church's request with staff's recommendations, which had six conditions including buffers around the site, a maximum of 220 parking spaces, a shared parking agreement and a crosswalk to connect church property to a planned trail head at Springfield Park.

"I think it’s important to understand that this property can be built today by right, other than the one small lot, with exactly what is being proposed. I feel like of all the possible uses that by right today could go on that property, this is probably one of the least intrusive, traffic generating possible," said Commissioner Renee Gable. "There are so many other uses that could go on this property that could generate so much more traffic and I understand this is probably the biggest issue we’re facing today."

Residents of a neighborhood to the west side of Springfield Drive gathered to speak publicly against the church, citing existing traffic problems. Neighbors said that they have difficulty getting out of the drive onto Highway 92 when a small daycare across the street lets out of school. They also noted that there are persistent flooding issues in the neighborhood, up to the park and the street when it rains heavily.

"They’re at the size of 200 right now, they’re looking or hoping to get to 500 which is great for a church to do that, but if we’re already having traffic issues with 17 cars at a day care, I can’t even imagine what that traffic is going to look at with 200 people, let alone 500 people trying to attend that church," said Rachel Dent, a nearby resident. "If there was other options for them to get out or we had another exit or anything like that I don’t think we would be having this much concern with it."

City planner Niwana Ray reported that a traffic signal upgrade has been installed and will soon be activated at the Springfield Drive light, which will detect traffic patterns and change accordingly. This should help ease congestion on Springfield Drive for cars getting onto Highway 92 and the city public works director can make sure it works correctly, she said. Commissioners said they believe the zoning case will prompt city council members to improve the intersection as a whole.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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