Neighbors want traffic study near growing church

Some residents who live near a growing Pentecostal church on Columbus’ north side said a proposed church expansion could create traffic safety issues.

The Sanctuary, 3939 Central Ave., received a favorable recommendation from the Columbus Plan Commission on Wednesday to rezone about 9 acres next to the church from residential to public use. The church plans to double its footprint on the property, expanding its sanctuary to seat 1,000 people.

But nearby residents said there are already traffic backups in the Pinewood Drive and Pawnee Trail neighborhoods on Sunday mornings when the parishioners arrive and leave. About 500 people attend Sunday services each week, the church reported. Access to The Sanctuary’s parking lot is about 20 feet off Central Avenue on Pinewood Drive.

Several residents who live in the Pinewood and Pawnee Trail neighborhoods said unsafe traffic conditions are created by drivers making a hard left turn across traffic to enter the lot. The expansion would cause even more traffic on an already busy Pinewood Drive, they said.

“Traffic safety is already a concern,” Pinewood Drive resident Julie Del Genio said during public comment. “Now, more access is proposed? That makes traffic safety an even bigger concern.”

The residents also asked Bartholomew County and Columbus City Planner Jeff Bergman to seek a traffic study in the area to identify safety issues.

Sanctuary Pastor Marvin Mitchell said he knows about the traffic concerns and agreed there needs to be better access to the church property.

But he said the church’s proposed expansion should alleviate some of the concerns because the church entry will be moved farther away from Central Avenue.

Bergman told the neighbors that the plan commission was considering only the zoning on the property, and traffic and property access were separate issues.

Before any construction, the church would be required to submit detailed construction plans to the city for approval, he said. Details about parking and traffic flow would be reviewed then, he said.

Bergman said he supported a thorough traffic study prior to approval of any site plans. However, he said that irregular attendance at the church would increase the complexity of the study. Unlike a school or business which has regular daily business, church traffic counts peak at only specified times during a week.

The church is planning to expand its 16,000-square-foot facility by an estimated 22,000 square feet. Drawings available on the church’s website depict a new worship area and leadership center, as well as large additions to the church’s parking area.

The plan commission does not have final say on zoning issues. The Columbus City Council will consider the proposed rezoning at its Jan. 5 meeting, Bergman said.

The Sanctuary expansion

The Sanctuary at 3939 Central Ave. is planning:

  • 22,000 square feet in total building expansions.
  • A new counseling and leadership center.
  • A new 1,000-seat worship area with room for eventual expansion to 1,500 seats.
  • A near tripling of available parking area.