An overflow crowd of 200 people squeezed into the former Julia R. Ewan Elementary School cafeteria Tuesday night in an emotional meeting where neighbors expressed concerns to Vineyard Community Church officials about the church's plans to buy and move into the building.
Several made it clear Vineyard was not welcome in the neighborhood, off Richmond Road between the Idle Hour Country Club and Henry Clay Boulevard. Some residents have signs in their yards opposing Vineyard's proposed move.
Some at the meeting said they were concerned about increased traffic throughout the neighborhood, parking, noise, and outreach programs the church might have. Others worried the church and its ministry to the poor would lower property values.
Valerie Askren, president of the Fairway Neighborhood Association, said the forum was intended to let residents communicate their concerns with the church.
A Lexington Board of Adjustment hearing on a conditional use permit for the church is scheduled for July 30.
The Rev. Kevin Clark is pastor of the church, which now meets at 817 Winchester Road. He said the church has a contract on the building for $1.5 million, pending approval of the conditional use permit.
Community Trust Bank has approved a loan for the church, Clark said.
In addressing the audience, Clark started off with an apology, saying Vineyard "had no idea we would cause this much ruckus in this neighborhood."
One of the missions of the church is serving the poor, which Clark said, "We are honored to do." But he said there were misconceptions of how that is carried out.
The church does not plan to open a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen or clothes closet. Vineyard partners with groups such as God's Pantry, Lexington Rescue Mission and the Catholic Action Center at their sites to feed, clothe and house the poor. He said there was no reason for his church "to reinvent the wheel."
Several people expressed concern about the traffic that a Christmas toy giveaway has attracted to Vineyard's church on Winchester Road. Executive pastor Jimmy Fields said it drew about 3,000 adults over several days in December.
One resident asked whether the church would agree to a deed restriction to not have the giveaway at its new location. Clark said no, but added that the Catholic Action Center, which runs the toy giveaway, is discussing keeping the project at the Winchester Road location even if Vineyard moves.
To meet city requirements, the church needs 100 parking spaces, which Clark said it can provide. The school had 86 spaces. The church has found ways to add an additional 50 spaces.
The 500 worshippers at Vineyard are distributed among three services, one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning. The church will have teams in the parking lot and on nearby streets to prevent blocked driveways. An emergency telephone number will be published in the Fairway Neighborhood newsletter for residents to call if someone has parked "inconsiderately."
One woman told Clark he was not being candid in saying how the church would handle additional cars if the church grew. It has grown from 12 members eight years ago to its current size of 500.
Another resident asked: if neighbors raised the money, how much would the church take to back out of its deal to buy the school from the current owner? The owner, Bill Meade, bought the school at auction in May 2009.
Meade, who was sitting on the front row, promptly stood up and said, "How much money have you got?"
A couple of people said Fairway was an inappropriate neighborhood for the church that says unabashedly it serves primarily the poor and the meek. "There are not many of those in this neighborhood," one speaker told Clark.