LifeWise religious group gets Tipp City’s OK for in-house program near school

Families at public school can choose whether to send kids down the street to LifeWise’s weekly religion class during school’s music, art time

TIPP CITY — After three extensive public hearings, the LifeWise religious education program received a city board’s permit approval to use a residence near Nevin Coppock Elementary School as its classrooms.

“We are thrilled with the decision to grant the special use permit so we can provide the safest option of transportation by walking students to and from class, as well as have more time in the classroom (rather than spent shuttling) and have a place to make our own,” said Abigail Hufford, program director of the Tipp City LifeWise group.

This will be the first year for the program in Tipp City schools, with first graders attending the classes once a week. Interested parents opt their children into the program. School board officials gave the program the OK earlier this year.

The program will start in a temporary location this Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Upper Room Worship Center. The church is located near the school and across Hyatt Street. Hopes are the Westedge Drive residence will be ready for classes by January.

Hufford said a program session would last around 40 minutes during the time when students normally have “specials” classes like music and art. Students would not be released directly from the house to parents. Plans are for the program to expand to kindergarten and other grades down the road, Hufford said.

LifeWise bought the house this summer but needed a special use permit from the Tipp City Planning Board in order to use it for an educational program. LifeWise proponents said the house was the ideal location, located in the block south of the school and accessible from a sidewalk along the house. The children would be escorted from the school to the house by adults.

The Planning Board first heard the special use permit request in July, and denied it by a 3-2 vote. LifeWise filed another request, which Colin Carville, city planner/zoning administrator, said met the city code requirement for reconsideration if additional relevant information would be presented.

Another full public hearing was held in August, but the board agreed to table the request because two of its five members were not present. Each public hearing lasted at least two hours, with supporters and opponents allowed to speak at all three meetings, with some speaking each time.

Neighbors told the board they did not see operating the program in a residence as a proper activity in the neighborhood and questioned if the use of a house for another purpose would impact property values. They also expressed concerns about what they said is a congested residential street before and after school as parents pick up and drop off students. They asked about added parking and any after-hour meetings or activities that might be held at the house.

“I don’t have anything against what they want to do. It is just in the wrong place,” said Larry Hunter, a neighbor on Westedge Drive.

LifeWise representatives said they would limit activities at the house and work with neighbors to resolve any problems. “We hope you will give us a chance to show we will do as we say. We are going to be a good neighbor,” said Scott Dixon, a LifeWise board member.

Planning Board member Chelesa Lay changed her vote from “no” at the July meeting to “yes.”

“I think the group is … highly motivated to be good neighbors,” she said.

Planning Board member Vivian Davis again voted against the request, saying she wanted to be responsive to those who live in the area. “It is a residential area and I think it should be kept residential,” she said.

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