A Lexington church that plans to relocate to northern Jessamine County has sued a county planning board in an effort to overturn a restriction on the number of buses it can have on the property.
Clays Mill Road Baptist Church has asked a judge to toss the 12-bus limit placed on its 80-acre property at 1220 Brannon Road by the Jessamine County/City of Wilmore Joint Board of Adjustment.
The congregation was granted a conditional use permit to build a church, school and three staff residences in December 2017, but the board of adjustment limited the number of buses allowed on the property because of concerns about the safety of buses traveling along the narrow road.
The church asked the board of adjustment to lift the restriction in March, but the board denied the request after neighbors vehemently opposed it. According to minutes from the March meeting, the church uses at least 25 school buses. The buses are used to pick up hundreds of kids and adults throughout Lexington each Sunday, according to Clays Mill Baptist’s website.
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The independent fundamental Baptist church says on its website that it has had more than 2,700 people attend a Sunday service at 3000 Clays Mill Road.
Robert Gullette, a lawyer for Clays Mill Baptist, said the bus restriction is arbitrary and doesn’t make sense. The church could drive all 25 buses on Brannon Road, as long as only 12 are on the property at one time, he said.
The church also argued in court documents that the 12-bus limit makes the property “unusable” to the church because it would hurt its growing bus ministry and that the board of adjustment failed to enter facts into the record to support the limit.
A lawyer for the board of adjustment argued in court documents that the condition of the road and traffic counts from the road justified the 12-bus limit. The lawsuit was filed in Jessamine Circuit Court.
“There is substantial evidence in the record” to justify the board’s 12-bus limit, said Bruce Smith, a lawyer for the board of adjustment.
A hearing in the case has not yet been set.
Some residents along Brannon Road say even 12 buses is too many.
Ida Maggard lives on Brannon Road and travels the road several times a day.
“It gets more dangerous by the day,” Maggard said. “There has been an increase in traffic just the in the last two years. And I don’t know why ... if it’s people trying to avoid the Summit on Nicholasville or just more construction at Brannon Crossing. It’s not safe and there are so many accidents every day.”
There are four other churches either on Brannon Road or near it, including Southland Christian Church, one of the largest in Central Kentucky.
On Sundays, there are times when traffic backs up on Brannon Road all the way to the Clays Mill Road extension, Maggard said. Several Lexington-based churches looking to expand have relocated to northern Jessamine County in recent years, in part because of Lexington’s growth boundary, neighbors in the area say.
Ryan Kenimer and his family moved from the corner of Branwood Lane and Brannon Road, in part because of Clays Mill Baptist’s decision to build nearby.
“We’ve had to replace at least four mailboxes that were destroyed because people came right through the yard,” Kenimer said. “It’s been a farm road since the 1970s and has not been modified since then. It’s no longer a farm road. It’s now a main thoroughfare between Nicholasville and Harrodsburg roads.”
Church officials have repeatedly argued in hearings that its buses will only be on Brannon Road for a few hundreds yards. It will use Clays Mill Road to route its buses to its property on Brannon Road.
But that’s still problematic, Kenimer and others said.
When exiting the property, the buses will have to make a left turn onto Brannon Road and then an immediate right turn to get on Clays Mill Road. There is not enough room at that intersection for buses to turn, Kenimer and others said.
“We feel like no one is listening to us and it’s very, very frustrating,” Kenimer said. “It may look like it will work on paper but it doesn’t.”
Meanwhile, Clays Mill Baptist has changed its proposed development twice since it was originally approved in December 2017, further angering neighbors. Instead of a 30,000 square-foot church and 20,000 square-foot school that was approved in December, it’s current approved site plan is for a temporary structure that was once used by the University of Kentucky.
Ed McCarthy, director of Jessamine County planning and zoning, said the church was recently approved for a building permit to pour the foundation and footers for the temporary structure but must still show Jessamine County planners how the temporary structure will be used before they can build out the 18,000 square-foot structure.
Gullette said he was not involved with the site plan changes and referred questions to Jeff Fugate, the church’s pastor. Fugate did not return a phone call seeking comment.
McCarthy said the church has to remain within the 53,000 square feet of space that it was originally approved for in December 2017. If the churches goes over that amount, it must return to the board of adjustment for additional approval.
Neighbors said the church has not communicated with Brannon Road residents about the changes to the site plan.
“We are just trying to keep them to the 53,000 square feet,” Kenimer said.
The church also ran afoul of Jessamine County officials when it started grading the property earlier this fall without a permit. A permit was eventually obtained, Jessamine County officials said.
The congregation previously tried to build a new church behind Commonwealth Baptist College, which it also owns, on Versailles Road but ultimately withdrew that request.
“The church does great things but this is just not the right location,” Maggard said.