Judge: Board can allow portables for church

A Blythewood church can keep using five portable buildings while it raises money for a permanent education building.

Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper Jr. issued his ruling Monday in a curious case pitting Town Hall against its own zoning board of appeals.

Cooper determined Blythewood's zoning board was within its authority to allow Trinity United Methodist Church to continue using portables for four years.

Town leaders argued the citizen board didn't sufficiently weigh the facts when granting a variance to the church in January 2009.

The judge disagreed.

Mitch Williams, chairman of the church governing council, said members were "absolutely flabbergasted" when the town appealed the zoning board's ruling.

"We're not talking about a business that has some kind of portable sitting out back. We're talking about a church that's providing services to the community," Williams said. "I know it's my church, but I think churches ought to be treated different than that by their town."

Trinity, the biggest church in Blythewood, is in the midst of a $3 million campaign to expand on its Blythewood Road property. The ruling has the effect of giving the church until 2013 to meet its goal.

Mayor Keith Bailey said the issue has a long history and generated a lot of emotion. Local law allows temporary structures for just one year, he said.

Bailey was uncertain whether Cooper's ruling gave the zoning board expanded authority. "That is the $60,000 question," he said.

"I have not ... talked to any of our legal folks about what we should do next, or whether we should do anything."

The town council's next scheduled meeting is Jan. 25. Members could decide then whether to pursue the case to the S.C. Court of Appeals.

On a related note, the zoning board was expanded to seven members with the new year, Administrator John Perry said. Before, it had five members.