Clemson U wins battle against megachurch on ICAR site

The Greenville NewsSeptember 20, 2013 

— Plans by the NewSpring megachurch to build a 1,400-seat church next to Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research hit a snag Thursday night when Greenville’s Board of Zoning Appeals rejected the church’s request to be excused from a parking regulation.

The ruling was a victory for Clemson, which opposes NewSpring’s plan to build a 67,000-square-foot church surrounded by 874 parking spaces on about 30 acres next to ICAR’s Technology Neighborhood I.

Still, it wasn’t clear following the vote whether NewSpring would abandon the site.

Howard Frist, the church’s campus development pastor, told members of the appeals board before the vote that NewSpring wouldn’t be able to use the site for its intended purpose if the zoning variance wasn’t granted.

Following the vote, he said NewSpring would continue to examine the situation. “We’re disappointed with the outcome of the vote, but our team will take a further look at this and consider the options,” Frist said.

John Boyette, director of Clemson’s Office of Land and Capital Asset Stewardship, spoke against the church’s request before the appeals board but declined to comment after the vote.

Clemson said in a statement last month that the ICAR area should focus on education, research-driven economic development and job creation and the location picked by the church “might not be the best fit.”

The university’s statement referred to development covenants that jointly govern ICAR land and the NewSpring development site, which is controlled by Miami developer Cliff Rosen.

Thursday night, however, Frist told appeals board members that the development covenants don’t prohibit use of the site for a church.

Frist said a variety of uses have already been permitted on land formerly controlled by Rosen and governed by the development covenants -- medical offices, a public school and Hubbell Lighting’s headquarters -- and “discrimination against the church at this point would look offensive and suspicious.”

Rosen told appeals board members that there are hundreds of trees and a creek between ICAR and the site where NewSpring wants to build.

If NewSpring isn’t allowed to build, Rosen said, a parking garage and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space would likely end up on the site, and that would generate much more traffic directly across the street from where a public middle school is planned.

NewSpring sought relief from a city requirement that no more than 20 percent of parking go in front of the church building.

Frank Hammond, a member of the zoning appeals board who made the motion to deny the request, said he didn’t like the parking requirement but didn’t think NewSpring had met the standards needed to obtain a variance from zoning rules.

Anderson-based NewSpring has eight locations in South Carolina and plans three sites in Greenville, Frist said.

Currently, its Greenville chapter draws 5,500 people to weekly services at the TD Convention Center, he said.

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