By Brittany Whitley & Tia Lynn Ivey
A local church received approval to open a daycare and applause from county commissioners on leading the charge for a traffic light at the Bethany Road Intersection.
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted unanimously Tuesday morning to approve a conditional use for Redeemer Church of Madison to operate a daycare facility for about 40 infants and toddlers, with the potential to open a full-fledged preschool that could accommodate up to 300 children.
Pastor John Darsey announced to county commissioners Tuesday morning that he has retained legal counsel to “investigate” any and all avenues in securing a traffic light at the Bethany Road Intersection at the Madison Bypass. The church currently spends $500 a week to hire off-duty police officers to direct traffic at the intersection.
“We felt we needed to do this to save lives,” said Darsey. “We want a traffic light. Everyone wants a traffic light there. We are going to do what we can to make that happen.”
“Amen, brother!” said Chairman Ron Milton.
Darsey believes his church can provide a sorely-needed childcare facility for the community, but worries about the safety of local drivers because of that intersection.
“I finally understand the county and city [of Madison] frustrations with GDOT over this,” said Darsey. “Unfortunately, I don’t think the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will put a traffic light there until someone dies out there and we don’t want that to happen.”
Darsey is also exploring options to create a curb-cut that would create a separate entrance into the church’s property to provide another option other than the Bethany Road intersection for parishioners.
“But that’s up to GDOT, too,” said Darsey. “Our church is growing. I hope we grow and grow until we are big enough to bully someone into putting a traffic light there already. The dynamic of that intersection has dramatically changed since GDOT did it’s last traffic study in 2016 and it is going to change even more.”
Darsey appeared before the Morgan County Planning Commission last week, where he received the commission’s support for the church’s daycare as well.
Agreeing on its great need in the county, the Morgan County Planning Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Redeemer Church of Madison’s request to operate a childcare learning center within its already-structured facility Thursday night at the monthly meeting.
Redeemer Church of Madison, a five-year-old church that started with only nine members, continues to search for opportunities to serve Madison through faith and community.
The church plans to collaborate with the staff of Kiddy Land Early Learning Center, who will advise and assist the church in creating a secure and successful educational care center for young children throughout the community.
“The dream of my heart in starting this church was to reach young people and children with the goal of instilling a Biblical worldview in their hearts,” Darsey expressed to the planning commission. “We seek to raise up a new generation of Christ-followers in our city. Our primary emphases are children and youth ministries, not adult ministries. We believe that as we reach the kids we will necessarily be reaching their parents and families. This, again, is primary to us in our ministry each day. Starting a childcare center is a natural progression in that chain of ministry. We want to love children, be a blessing to their families, and serve our town through loving kids!”
With the church building’s current structure, the classrooms are sufficient for the care of 12 infants, 11 one-year old children, and 13 two-year old children. Sinks, changing stations with exhaust fans, a dishwasher in the kitchen, and shading in the playground are intended to be installed in the building to ensure all qualifications are met.
An underlying concern for a fire sprinkler system was satisfied by the particular placement of exterior doors leading directly outside in each classroom.
To ensure the safety of the children’s care, background checks will be completed on all future childcare employees.
“Everyone who serves with children and youth in our church is required to undergo legal background checks,” Darsey reassured. “We take the safety of our kids as the number one concern and we are proud of that. As for staffing the daycare, we will be especially cautious in employing people.”
The planning commission, too, was concerned about the Bethany Road intersection near the church.
More than 1,200 protestant-evangelicals constitute the budding megachurch’s increasing congregation located at 1890 Bethany Road.
“My question is about that intersection,” stated Planning Commissioner Maryann Dartnell. “We all recognize that its been identified as being dangerous. Are there plans for anything, yet, to reconcile that?”
Planning and Development Director Chuck Jarrell responded with the details of the meeting that he, the Board of Commissioners Chairman, and county manger attended with the city of Madison and GDOT. “GDOT recognizes that the intersection needs to be addressed; however, it does not meet their criteria for a red light…But as a temporary measure, they (DOT) are recommending, moving forward with the approval process on their end, to put a R-turn, which is a right hand only turn.”
The right-turn-only lane would force those entering the intersection from Bethany Road to turn right only, making lefts and U-turns only at appropriate crossovers. GDOT has taken Redeemer Church’s congregation count into consideration for future decisions regarding the intersection, according to Darsey.
“We can put some good traffic through the intersection on Sunday, but it doesn’t help the overall numbers…on the piece of property that we have, seven acres of that land will be landlocked, and we would be able to have a curb cut on the bypass to enter…I’d like to see that land developed… we have obtained legal counsel to help us with that.”
The Redeemer Church is striving to function a year-round childcare center from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. According to Marie Singleton, owner of Kiddy Land Learning Center, the proposed childcare learning center is estimated to have peak traffic hours of 7:30-8 a.m. and 4:30-5 p.m. during drop-off and pick up.
“The traffic impact will be negligible,” Darsey said. “Our hours will begin early and end late. Doubtless we are at a challenging intersection, but we are doing all we can to get the GDOT to step up to the plate and fix a problem. The intersection is not adequate for the growth of the church or community around us. With the new hospital and senior facility coming, something must be done. However, our situation adds only a few more cars each day.”
With no opposing comments from the public, the motion to pass the request for the childcare learner center was approved with a unanimous vote.
The planning commissioners also approved a text amendment request for heavy equipment sales to the Morgan County Zoning Ordinance and denied Robert Foster’s request to operate a farm stay on 6.69 acres of land within an Agricultural Residential (AR) zone.
The request was opposed by two of the applicant’s neighbors complaining of the affects the farm stay would have on their own residences.
The BOC also unanimously voted to pass the text amendment at Tuesday’s regular meeting.