Since New Song Lutheran Church applied for a zone change this summer, the request has sparked opposition from hundreds of nearby residents who fear an increase in traffic problems and a drop in property values.
Opponents and supporters filled the Henderson City Council chambers Tuesday night, when the council voted to postpone a decision until its Jan. 8 meeting.
The Rev. David Poling-Goldenne said the Henderson church needs the change in zoning, from low-density residential to public/semipublic, to add first-graders to its school, which currently has only preschool and kindergarten students. The change would not increase the school’s maximum student population, which is 62.
"We didn’t begin this process to set off a neighborhood reaction," the pastor told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week. "It’s kind of created a furor that none of us expected."
City officials said more than 200 people have objected, in one way or another, to the proposed change, but nearly as many people have voiced their support.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the zone change with conditions. Among them: The school will be limited to a maximum of 10 first-graders and a maximum total of 62 students.
Eddie Dichter, the city’s principal planner, said the Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit last year that allowed the church to operate a day care facility with the same maximum population. Preschool and kindergarten fall under the day care use, but the addition of first-graders requires the zone change.
The school, which has a student population of 59, is at 1291 Cornet St., near Anthem Parkway and Reunion Drive.
According to a staff report from the Community Development Department, the church conducted a neighborhood meeting in late August.
"The meeting lasted approximately one hour and staff notes a majority of the residents were in opposition of the application requests mainly due to traffic concerns and the rezoning to a non-residential zone," the report said.
Douglas Mikulicic attended the meeting and said it "went very badly for the church."
"They had no idea that there was any opposition to them," he said.
Since then, Mikulicic has gathered about 500 signatures from neighbors opposed to the zone change. Some, such as Mikulicic and his wife, live on Cornet Street. Others live on other streets with musical names, such as Lyrical Road, Flute Avenue, Minuet Street, Tempo Street and Sonatina Drive.
"Every door we knock on, approximately 90 percent are opposed to the zone change," Mikulicic said on Monday, after meeting with Mayor Andy Hafen.
Mikulicic, who addressed the council Tuesday night, said he and his wife bought their home in 2005. At the time, they inquired about plans for the empty lot across the street and were told a small community church would be built there. They had no problem with that.
"None of the neighborhood is against the church, or even against the preschool," Mikulicic said.
What troubles neighbors is that church leaders have said they eventually plan to create a Christian academy to educate students through the fifth grade, although Poling-Goldenne said that won’t happen for another four or five years.
He said the school would top out at 140 students.
If the City Council grants the church’s request this year, Mikulicic said, "you’ve opened Pandora’s Box."
The school will want to increase its population every year, he said. "They can’t possibly stay at the same number."
He said two other schools, Lamping Elementary School and Webb Middle School, already operate within one mile of the church.
Another condition the Planning Commission recommended: The church will work with staff to adjust start and end times to differ from Webb’s start and end times.
Poling-Goldenne said the church, which has a membership of about 750, sits on more than five acres. Its 10,000-square-foot building was completed in 2006. A modular building also has been added to the site.
This is the fourth year the church has operated a preschool, Poling-Goldenne said. He said the school added kindergarten last year.
"We have a waiting list of people who want to get in," the pastor said.
He noted that the church also serves as a polling place and offers Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings . In addition, it has support groups for people grieving the loss of a loved one or going through a divorce.
"We’ve always had our building open and available for the community to use," Poling-Goldenne said.
In postponing the decision on the zone change, the council asked the church to try to reach a compromise with neighboring residents. The council also asked the church to amend its application to reflect its future plan of educating 140 students.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710.