Tree of Life Christian School officials plan to appear before city council Aug. 16 to appeal a ruling that the school submitted the wrong application for a conditional use permit.

Tree of Life Christian School officials plan to appear before city council Aug. 16 to appeal a ruling that the school submitted the wrong application for a conditional use permit.

The school, which currently has four locations in the greater Columbus area, wants to consolidate those sites at the old America Online building at 5000 Arlington Center Blvd. off Henderson Road.

Tree of Life went before BZAP, which stated June 7 that the school submitted the wrong application.

The school submitted an application for a conditional use permit to house a school with "ancillary uses" at the facility, but is now saying that a church will be the primary use of the facility.

Chad Gibson, senior planning officer, said the 16-acre lot is zoned for office use. Under that zoning, or under appropriate conditional uses, a school is not permitted, he said.

He said the appeal Aug. 16 deals solely with school officials' contention that the building would be considered a place of worship rather than a school. He said Tree of Life has not submitted an application for a place of worship.

"The total proposed use is 325,000 square feet," Gibson said. "Of this area, less than 15,000 square feet is noted as a theater or chapel, which is less than 5 percent of the (total) building area. From just about anyone's perspective, this is a school."

Glen Dugger, an attorney with Smith and Hale, is representing Tree of Life. He said the appeal on Aug. 16 would cover the same material as was presented to BZAP members in June.

"Tree of Life is a place of worship," Dugger said. "It's fundamental to the core of what they do."

According to city zoning codes, the office and research district the AOL building's current zoning is designed "to allow offices and research facilities that will contribute to the city's physical pattern of planned, healthy, safe and attractive neighborhoods. The ORC district should also provide job opportunities and services to residents and contribute to the city's economic stability. Permitted uses generally include, but are not limited to, business and professional offices, research and development, book and periodical publishing, insurance carriers, corporate data centers, survey research firms and outpatient surgery centers."

Gibson said the plans Tree of Life officials gave the city showed that the space would be used as a school.

If council members vote to uphold the BZAP decision, Dugger said, "That would theoretically send the case back to the board of zoning and planning."

If BZAP rejected the application again, the school likely would file an appeal with the Franklin County Municipal Court through its environmental court division.

Tree of Life currently is working on another appeal through the same court to overturn the BZAP decision to deny a request for a conditional use permit to allow a private school to operate on a commercially zoned property.

Gibson said it is the city's wish to keep the property for commercial use because it is the largest commercial property in Upper Arlington.

The site currently is vacant and is owned by Time Warner, which purchased AOL in 2000.

"The city of Upper Arlington is 90 percent residential," Gibson said. "We have very limited commercial land use area in which to draw commercial taxes. This site was specifically zoned for office, and at one time it was the city's largest income tax producing site."

Tree of Life is considered a nonprofit and has a relatively low payroll, Gibson said.

He said Matt Shad, deputy city manager for economic development, is in the process of working with other interested tenants that would use the site for commercial purposes.

"There are other interested parties," Gibson said.

gmartineau@thisweeknews.com