Children and Friends explores lease option with First Baptist Church of Black Mountain

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Black Mountain, Jeremy Shoulta, stands on what could be the future site of Children and Friends Enrichment Center. Members of the church were set to vote on whether or not to approve a lease with the day care, which has been seeking a new location since 2017.

A new location has emerged as a potential home for Children and Friends Enrichment Center, a Black Mountain day care seeking to build a facility on town-owned land inside Veterans Park since 2017. 

Members of First Baptist Church of Black Mountain will vote, Sunday, Oct. 20, on a lease agreement that would allow the nonprofit day care to construct the building on church property, on Midland Avenue. 

Representatives from Children and Friends approached town officials in 2017 about the possibility of leasing a parcel of land, adjacent to the Black Mountain fire station on White Pine Drive. The nonprofit organization, which has been in operation in 1979, cited a need to expand in an effort to meet the growing demands for child care in the Swannanoa Valley and flooding issues at its current location, 3126 U.S. 70. 

The day care currently serves 70 families, while the proposed 10,000-square-foot structure would allow Children and Friends to accept up to 170 children. 

Aldermen approved a memorandum of understanding in December of 2017; the document outlined the terms under which a lease agreement between the town and day care could be reached. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, in September of 2018, awarded the day care $200,000 towards its expansion efforts. Other community organizations, including Montreat Presbyterian Church and the Cannon Foundations, contributed to the day care’s fundraising efforts. 

The board, during its Sept. 9 regular meeting, unanimously approved the terms of a lease between the town and the day care, setting up a final vote to approve the agreement in November. That move was met with backlash by local residents who expressed concerns about the location. 

Aldermen were presented with a petition, which contained more than 500 signatures from residents and non-residents, opposing the agreement. Issues addressed during citizen comments ranged from the day care’s potential impact on the neighboring Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, to the loss of green space and mature trees.

The proximity to the neighboring fire station and the impact the facility could have on traffic on the narrow White Pine Drive were also concerns brought forth by those opposing the location. Others pointed to the extensive work required for the necessary infrastructure, specifically the cost of running a sewer line from the building to the existing sewage system. 

The expense associated with the infrastructure improvements, according to Children and Friends board member John DeWitt, prompted representatives from the day care to reach out to First Baptist Church of Black Mountain. 

“We initiated a conversation with First Baptist Church a couple of weeks ago,” DeWitt said Oct. 8. “As we started to look into what would be required to do everything we had to do, and it started to become clear that the infrastructure would likely cost more than the building.”

DeWitt and Linda Hobson, chair of the day care’s governing board, Swannanoa Valley Child Care Council, Inc., contacted Jeremy Shoulta, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church. The church, which opened in 1905, owns 4.45 acres of land between Montreat Road and Midland Avenue. 

“I believe they came to us on Monday, Sept. 23,” Shoulta said. “We worked quickly to determine if this would be a good step for the church to explore as a congregation.”

Shoulta brought the request to the church’s Stewardship Committee to seek guidance.

“I took it to them to have them meet with Children and Friends to discern whether or not we would be able to take this proposal to the church as a whole,” Shoulta said. “After ironing out some details about how this relationship might work, we took it to the church.”

Shoulta informed the congregation Oct. 2 that the church had been approached by the day care. He announced an Oct. 6 congregational meeting, in which Hobson presented the proposal to church members. 

“I explained who we are and what our need is,” Hobson said. “I shared the reasons we needed to move the center, and that we were learning that the development at Veterans Park would be too expensive.”

The day care’s lease in its current building expires Dec. 31 of this year, adding a growing sense of urgency to the relocation, Hobson said. 

“I reiterated the crucial need for more child care in this area,” she said. “We are between a rock and a hard spot. If we can’t pull this off, we can’t be open.”

The church and day care worked to reach an agreement on the terms, which would allow Children and Friends to lease land on which to construct a new facility and playground. Approval of the lease requires a vote by the church body, which was initially scheduled to take place on Oct. 13, but moved to Oct. 20 in an effort to “fully comply with our consituion and bylaws,” Shoulta said.

A day care is permitted by right on the property, which is zoned for neighborhood mixed use (NMU-8) in the town’s Land Use Code. 

“If the church agrees to lease the space, then the day care would follow our normal permitting process like any other development,” said Town Manager Josh Harrold.

With a final approval on the lease between the town and day care pending, Harrold said the town is in a “holding pattern.”

“We will see how things work out between the church and day care,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, the day care could still pursue the (Veterans Park) site.”

Shoulta believes allowing Children and Friends to lease the space would be an appropriate use of church property.

“It would help us be good stewards of our space and use it in a way that helps a community organization,” he said. “We also believe that, because of our faith, we are compelled to show love and compassion to the least of these among us, which includes children in our community. We believe this is a way we can fulfill our mission of caring for the community.”

He acknowledged there were “concerns and questions” about the proposal, but added that he was “thankful to be given the opportunity to serve the community in this way.”

Shoulta would not speculate on the outcome of the pending vote, but estimated more than 100 church members could be in attendance.