JEFFERSON — When First United Methodist Church of Jefferson arrived, it was the only structure in the immediate area.
Now, more than 160 years later, it is surrounded by historic homes and property owners who say that additional structures on the church’s property could adversely affect their quality of life.
Church officials say that an expansion is necessary to accommodate their growing congregation and have submitted a request to the Jefferson-Talmo Planning Commission seeking approval to have a parcel of the church’s property rezoned to Office-Institutional District. The rezoning would allow the church to expand its parking options, and increase structures to accommodate more church activities.
"This request will help provide badly needed parking — at the present time, we are functioning with parking that was designed for a congregation that primarily walked to church," Tim Cornelison, church member and building committee representative, said during a planning meeting.
The construction that is associated with the rezoning request would be completed in three phases and would add a parking lot that could accommodate up to 225 vehicles. The church now has fewer than 70 actual parking spaces, Cornelison says.
Residents in the historic district surrounding the church say that any expansion at the church’s current site would work against its plans to ease traffic congestion in the area.
"I don’t know how 225 parking spaces can lessen traffic impact on the neighborhood’s narrow streets," said Rob Huestis, an attorney representing several residents, including Chuck and Kathy DuBose. "I think this rezoning application will destroy the unique historic character of this neighborhood if it is approved."
Although the planning commission recommended that the rezoning application be approved — with several conditions — the Jefferson City Council has to give final approval before any further action can be taken by the church. The council is expected to take up the issue during its work session in December.
Jefferson resident Mark Day, who has a court-approved easement on the property where the church’s proposed parking lot would be placed, says he plans to fight the rezoning request being approved.
"I believe the (church’s) plans are beautiful, but not for my front yard," said Day.
"And this would literally be my front yard."