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Countryside Christian Academy must submit new plan or risk moving basketball court

CLEARWATER — After a lengthy debate over whether a local Christian school should be allowed to keep its outdoor basketball court, neither side walked away with a clear victory Tuesday.

So the fate of Countryside Christian Academy’s court is still in question. The city’s Community Development Board, which was asked to decide whether the court should stay, sided with the school on some issues but not on others.

Countryside Christian Center, which operates the 155-student school at 1850 McMullen Booth Road, built the court a few years ago without a permit. The church says the lack of a permit was an unfortunate oversight. The court is a paved surface in the middle of a large grassy parking lot behind the church and school.

A few neighbors complained to the development board Tuesday that noise and bright lights from the basketball court routinely disturb them, especially because the court isn’t fenced off and is open to the general public after school hours.

“There’s nearly constant playing and yelling until about midnight,” said neighbor Fred Cutting. “People have trouble sleeping.

” Several other neighbors came to City Hall to say the basketball court isn’t a problem for them. “The kids don’t bother me, the lights don’t bother me, the noise doesn’t bother me,” said David Gaston.

Clearwater planning officials reviewed the case and said the court should be removed.

Countryside Christian appealed and asked to keep the court. The church argued that the court isn’t too close to any neighbors, it doesn’t violate Clearwater’s noise ordinance, and students need it for daily exercise. Although the court isn’t fenced off to prevent non-students from playing on it, the lights around it are turned off at 10 p.m., said pastor Glen Gammon.

However, Clearwater planning director Michael Delk said the biggest problem with the court was a more technical issue.

The court’s location does not comply with the original site plan that the church submitted and which was okayed by local officials. According to that site plan, the spot where the court is located is only supposed to be used for parking. As the Community Development Board grappled with the issue, it became clear that most of the nine board members supported keeping the basketball court where it is.

However, board members concluded that they couldn’t legally overrule one of Delk’s objections to the basketball court. So the board denied Countryside Christian’s appeal, suggesting that the church submit a revised site plan to the city.

However, Delk indicated that the city would likely require that the basketball court be moved to another spot. “I’m sure we can find an appropriate place to put a basketball court,” Delk said.

Some board members wondered whether that was necessary.

“My experience is that basketball courts don’t move easily,” said Thomas Coates.

Parents of Countryside Christian students donated most of the $27,000 cost of the current basketball court, said the church’s attorney, Katie Cole. The church said it chose the court’s location for students’ safety; the court is near the school building and far from McMullen Booth Road. Delk said he understood that, but he still didn’t approve of the court’s location.

“It’s not cheap to move a basketball court,” Delk said. “It’s very challenging for the church, we understand that.”

After Tuesday’s hearing, Countryside Christian’s pastor said the church would try to come up with a plan that will satisfy the city. Delk said he would wait to see the church’s proposal.

“Nobody walked away with a win today,” said Fred Cutting, one of the neighbors who objected to the basketball court. “That means we have to keep working.”

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Countryside Christian Academy must submit new plan or risk moving basketball court 05/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 9:10pm]
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