Clemson U concerned by megachurch building plans

08/21/2013 10:32 PM

08/21/2013 10:43 PM

Clemson University isn’t happy with plans by Anderson-based megachurch NewSpring to build a 1,400-seat church next to the university’s International Center for Automotive Research along Interstate 85 in Greenville.

But the owner of the 30-acre site where the church plans to build, Miami developer Cliff Rosen, said it seems like a perfect fit to him.

Rosen said the church would generate traffic mostly on Sunday when ICAR and other offices in the area are idle and so wouldn’t strain the infrastructure.

“I believe the church is a wonderful addition and very much look forward to having them there,” he said.

Howard Frist, NewSpring’s campus development pastor, declined to comment.

Clemson spokesman Cathy Sams said the university has many partners and investors in ICAR, including the city of Greenville and the state of South Carolina, “who expect the site to focus on education, research-driven economic development and job creation. While we certainly support NewSpring’s expansion in Greenville, it seems that this location might not be the best fit.”

Sams cited “agreed-upon covenants for development” that apply jointly to ICAR property and next-door Rosen land marketed as the Millennium Campus.

But Rosen’s attorney, Larry Estridge of Greenville, said nothing in the covenants prohibits developing a church on the property.

“There are 28 prohibited uses stated in the covenants. Church is not one of those,” Estridge said.

“And I can tell you because I was a co-author. Never did Clemson even ask to have churches banned from the campus, nor hospitals, nor schools, and all of those are permitted in the S1 zoning that we all sought, including Clemson, for the campus.”

Estridge said a three-member design review committee required by the covenants met Tuesday with NewSpring officials in his office and voted to give preliminary approval to the church’s plan.

Clemson’s appointee to the review committee, John Boyette, director of the university’s Office of Land and Capital Asset Stewardship, cast the only vote against the church’s plan, Estridge said.

Boyette declined to comment.

NewSpring, whose Greenville branch has been meeting at the TD Convention Center, plans a 67,000-square-foot building with 874 parking spaces next to ICAR’s Technology Neighborhood I, according to an application for a zoning variance on file at City Hall.

Rosen said he has a contract to sell the site to NewSpring.

He acquired the land after Clemson picked him more than a decade ago as the private developer for ICAR.

Later, his deal with the university to develop 400 acres was restructured after intervention by then-Gov. Mark Sanford and his then-Commerce Secretary, Bob Faith.

That left Rosen in control of 150 acres and the Clemson University Real Estate Foundation in control of 250.

Since then, Rosen has sold parts of his property to Hubbell Lighting for its corporate headquarters, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System for medical offices and Greenville County schools for a middle school.

Proterra, the Greenville-based manufacturer of battery-powered transit buses, had planned to build a factory at ICAR with Clemson’s blessing but that project never materialized.

Estridge said ICAR has “plenty of room” to develop more automotive research activity, “and we all hope there will be lots more coming.”

But the 400 acres today has “a lot more of an institutional flavor than it did,” Estridge said.

NewSpring is asking the Greenville Board of Zoning Appeals for relief from a requirement than no more than 20 percent of parking go in front of the church building.

NewSpring’s site plan shows two future office buildings on the site in addition to a church building with a sanctuary and classrooms, but Estridge said plans for the office buildings aren’t firm.

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