Henderson approves changes for Lutheran school expansion

After an eight-month battle with residents of its Henderson neighborhood, New Song Lutheran Church received approval Tuesday to add first-graders to its school.

The Henderson City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday in favor of the change after hearing comments from 20 people. Councilwoman Gerri Schroder voted against it.

“I have a fear of what could happen in the future,” Schroder said.

Church representatives have said they hope to build a Christian academy that could educate students through the fifth grade.

The neighborhood discord that preceded the meeting stemmed from the church’s request for a zone change to allow first-graders at the school, which currently has only preschool and kindergarten students. The change will not increase the school’s maximum student population, which is 62, but many residents fear it will lead to an increase in traffic problems and a drop in property values.

Those with an interest in the issue nearly filled the Henderson City Council chambers during the three-hour meeting.

“What I’ve learned tonight is this is not just about a zone change; it’s about a community,” Councilman John Marz said.

Since New Song applied for the zone change last summer, neighbors circulated petitions to gather signatures of opponents.

Douglas Mikulicic led the petition drive and said 1,014 signatures had been gathered by Tuesday. More than 900 people who live in the neighborhood signed their names, he said.

The Rev. David Poling-Goldenne said he doubted the petitions contained that many valid signatures. He said a small group of families, including Mikulicic’s, has led the opposition.

“I think a lot of residents have come around,” Poling-Goldenne told the Review-Journal before the council meeting.

The church presented its own petition Tuesday night with the signatures of 881 supporters.

Before the meeting, city officials said they had heard from more than 200 people on each side of the issue.

A change in zoning from low-density residential to public/semipublic was needed to allow first-graders at the New Song school.

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 of 62 students.

The school, which currently has a student population of 58, is at 1291 Cornet St., near Anthem Parkway and Reunion Drive.

Mikulicic said he and his wife have owned a house on Cornet Street since 2005. The family attended New Song church before the dispute erupted in August.

Lamping Elementary School and Webb Middle School operate near the church. The Planning Commission recommended that the church adjust start and end times at its school to differ from Webb’s start and end times, and the City Council adopted that condition.

Mikulicic said opponents objected to the zone change because church leaders have said their plans include building a Christian academy to educate 140 students through the fifth grade. Poling-Goldenne said that wouldn’t happen for five years, and neighbors will have the opportunity to share their concerns as the plans continue through the approval process.

The zone change first came before the City Council in October, when the council voted to postpone a decision.

At the time, the council asked the church to try to reach a compromise with residents. It also asked the church to amend its application to reflect its future plan of educating 140 students.

In January, the council voted to give the church three more months to meet with residents. Mikulicic said church representatives previously turned down invitations to attend two meetings with the Coventry Homes at Anthem Homeowners Association.

At the January meeting, Councilwoman Debra March scolded church leaders for failing to meet with neighbors.

“To think that you couldn’t find some time in that last 90 days is disconcerting to me,” she said.

And council members again urged the church to come back with a plan that included all of its future intentions for the site.

Poling-Goldenne said that church leaders held neighborhood meetings in February and March, and that about 120 people attended each.

“I think that they were very cordial,” he said. “There are still a handful of people that are opposed.”

Mikulicic attended the second meeting and said New Song representatives focused on the church rather than the school. He also said church representatives “didn’t really answer questions that people asked.”

“Frankly, the last six months has been a complete waste of time because New Song has really done nothing that they were asked to do,” he said.

Poling-Goldenne said New Song plans to begin teaching first-graders in the fall. He said the school’s existing classrooms have room for only 59 students a day.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.

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