A request for a conditional use permit to allow religious activities and childcare services in a vacant warehouse facility near I-40 raised concern about alcohol sales and diesel fumes at Monday night’s Planning Commission meeting.

Applicant Whitney Burns, wife of Pastor Jay Burns of Covenant Life Church, is a licensed teacher who wishes to open a learning center to accompany the church’s new location at 235 Tilk Road.

The learning center would be housed in the front of a 10,000-SF warehouse and office facility currently zoned I-3, intensive industrial.

Steve Simon, of Conway, said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the church and learning center, but he had questions regarding how it would affect the potential sale of his property between the church and the interstate.

"I know with the airport property currently in the process of development — I wondered how this might affect the chances if we sell our property to a restaurant that sold alcohol in that area — if they would be able to do that in proximity of a church and childcare [facility]," he said.

There was discussion among planning commission members about how the former New Life Church location, currently oneChurch of Conway, is within 1,000 feet of commercial restaurants such as Old Chicago Pizza and JJ’s Grill both of which have full bars.

According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration no permit for the sale or dispensing of alcoholic beverages shall be issued within 1000 feet to be measured from the nearest point of the church or school building to the nearest point of the building sought to be permitted.

An employee from Pepsi Beverages Co., located next door to the proposed church and learning center raised concern about parking spaces.

The projected traffic impact estimate prepared by Bryan Patrick, director of planning for the City of Conway, says a church would generate peak use on Sundays, with 90 vehicle trips on non-worship days.

As a childcare center, four vehicle trips per child per day can be expected with additional traffic generation expected during drop off and pick up times, Patrick said.

Burns said the building is big enough to hold 40 children, so she expects about 35 cars to be coming through during peak drop off times.

"Everybody doesn’t pick up and drop off at the exact same moment," she said. "And we would never ever condone using anyone else’s parking lot."

Planning Commission member Jerry Rye said although he doesn’t know the exact regulations for a childcare facility, he knows there are requirements for outdoor recreational facilities.

Burns said there is a "grassy area" on the side of the property. She also plans to fence off the gravel area in the back of the lot, she said.

Commissioner Jon Arms moved to vote on the conditional use permit with the condition of no outside sound systems, and conditional use is limited to the owner.

Before the vote, planning commissioner Matthew Brown said he gave the liquor license concern a "quick and dirty look" on his cell phone, and thought a restaurant that serves alcohol must be at least 1,000 feet from a church or school building.

"With Central Landing going in and all the restaurants, I’d hate for a church to get there first and lock up a big bubble where we have restaurants trying to get permits, especially when there’s no church to begin with there right now," he said.

Planning Commissioner Mark Lewis said he didn’t feel comfortable tabling a request for a proposal that was ready to be implemented for plans that may happen years down the road.

"We’re claiming to have some kind of crystal ball into the future where we can see four years down the road," he said.

Rye said regardless of whether the planning commission thinks the site is the right place for a church; he’s not convinced an industrial zone is a proper place for children.

"You’ve got diesel trucks coming in and out of the parking lot next door, heavy equipment moving all around in all adjacent parking lots and when development starts, I’m not sure if this is the right place for children," he said.

Patrick suggested to "kick the can" to City Council by making a third condition for the council to take special consideration to review distance separation between alcohol sales and church and child care facilities.

The conditional use permit request passed with planning commissioners Lee Washington, Mark Lewis, Jon Arms, Anne Tucker, Matthew Brown and Wendy Shirar voting in favor of the request. Commissioners Jeff Allender, Marilyn Armstrong, Stan Hobbs and Jerry Rye opposed the request.

(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at michelle.corbet@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1215. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)