COVINGTON - County commissioners finally reached a consensus Tuesday night to increase the number of students at a private school on Byrd Road owned by Crosspointe Baptist Church.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to double the maximum enrollment from 75 to 150.
The decision put an end to months of delays - the petition had been tabled four times since January.
Crosspointe was requesting an increase to 250 students, but the board had been deadlocked over the issue. Three motions - one that would have limited the enrollment to 150, another to 200 and one that would have allowed the 250 requested - failed at the board's April meeting.
On Tuesday night, Darrell Head, an elder at the church, told the board that an enrollment of 250 students was " the bare bones minimum where the school becomes solid. Anything less than that impedes the success of the school."
Neighbors had spoken out against the expansion, saying it would further disrupt their rural neighborhood and create additional traffic problems on narrow Byrd Road.
Resident Ken Wright asked the county to "keep nature as it is, rather than have a small city plunked down in our neighborhood."
The church's longterm vision for the 64-acre site includes a recreation area with ball fields and walking trails, and possibly a campground and arts center for entertainment events.
But Head said the church wants to serve the community, not harm it, adding that the site will be conducive to family activities, with a pond, greenspace and walking trails.
"Our vision is large, and there is a misconception that we are growing very aggressively, that the growth is out of control," Head said. "But the church is growing very moderately. It's a very managed growth, a very prudent growth."
He added that it's taken seven years to purchase the land and construct one building.
Commissioner Monty Laster, who represents District 5, where the school is located, said in April that Byrd Road is an unclassified road that is more like a subdivision street. He said he hoped the church site would eventually have access to Ga. Highway 81, or else the church should be prepared to make improvements to Byrd Road.
But Head said the church conducted its own traffic study that indicated the additional students would not merit modifications, and concluded that 80 percent of traffic came off Gum Creek Road, not Byrd Road.
He said the cost to construct an access road to Ga. 81 would be $365,000, which the church can't afford at this time.
Laster said he had received many e-mails and phone calls from both supporters and opponents of the petition. He said he supported both public and private schools, but also supported property rights.
"I believe the adjacent property owners have the same property rights" as the church, he said before making the motion to limit enrollment to 150 and to remove a condition that the church construct a left-hand turn lane at the property entrance.
The motion passed 3-2 with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson and District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming in opposition.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.