Faith Life Church is free to move forward with a detailed plan for expansion now that two hurdles have been cleared.

New Albany City Council on July 3 approved an annexation and a zoning request, with all members present voting for the ordinances; Chip Fellows and Matt Shull were absent.

The church, 2407 Beech Road NW in Jersey Township, had requested to change the zoning on the land for its expansion from agricultural to infill planned-unit development. The church's 37 acres were annexed from the township to New Albany; the main reason was to access utilities provided by New Albany, said Tim Keesee, a pastor for the church.

Church leaders likely will submit a final development plan to the city within the next two to four months, said Aaron Underhill of Underhill and Hodge, a real-estate law firm representing the church.

"This will be dependent on how long it takes the church to complete more detailed engineering and architecture," Underhill said.

The city's planning commission and architectural-review board would review the final development plan, said Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany's community-development director.

Church leaders want to add 150,000 square feet to the 50,000-square-foot building to accommodate new and existing programs, Keesee said.

The $20 million expansion by Faith Life Church could lead to the hiring of more than 40 employees, church leaders have said; about 60 full- and part-time staff members work there already.

Some residents have expressed concerns about the church's plans, however.

After neighbors expressed several concerns while meeting with church leaders, the church's legal counsel asked City Council on June 19 to table the legislation to July.

David Hodge of Underhill and Hodge said church leaders asked for the postponement so they could hold more meetings with neighbors. Four residences abut the church property and a few other homes are nearby, he said.

Early in June, the church held a meeting that was attended by three groups of neighbors, Hodge said.

Jay Luebbe, a member of the church's building committee, said neighbors are concerned that New Albany wants to extend Smith's Mill Road from Beech Road along the northern perimeter of the church's property and with the church's practice of providing temporary living facilities at two houses on the property for victims of sex trafficking.

The temporary housing is for victims of abuse, financial problems or personal problems unrelated to substance abuse, Hodge said.

Under the proposed zoning text for the church, temporary residential facilities could be made available on a charitable basis to individuals who have suffered from abuse, are having financial problems or are experiencing some other personal difficulties unrelated to drug and/or alcohol abuse, said city spokesman Scott McAfee.

The use would be permitted only in the existing houses, which are at 2337 Beech Road and 2487 Beech Road, or similar replacement structures that could be approved as part of a final development plan, McAfee said.

Hodge said some neighbors also were concerned about the height of the church steeple.

The steeple is just over 80 feet tall, Underhill said.

Per zoning text, the church will not be able to light the steeple in a way in which the lights point upward.

The church is going to install fences and plant heavy vegetation, Underhill said, and church staff will continue to work with neighbors to help ease their concerns.

"We'll continue to have those meetings," he said.

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