Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Ministry told it can’t meet at home

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Planning Commis-sion said no to the birth of a church Monday night and welcomed Chick-fil-A to the community, provided the company build another 100 feet of sidewalk on property they are using, but doesn’t belong to them.

Carwin and Carolyn Baker came to the commission Monday night requesting a conditional-use permit to operate a church out of their home at 403 Boston St. The Bakers told the commissioners that they had been worshipping with a small group of neighborhood residents and working with area children.

“They need alternatives to all the violence,” Carolyn Baker said, “and we’ve been teaching them cooking and gardening.”

The Bakers said at the most, 20 people may show up to worship, and that most walk to their home, and that they were looking for a more permanent location for their Solid Rock Ministries.

City codes allow for churches to be built in residential areas, but don’t specifically address a church growing out of a home.

Commissioner Bart Gray Jr. voiced concerns about a large gathering in a facility not conducive to that size crowd.

Commissioner Charles Evans also worried about parking and noise.

Aldermen Bill Howard, also a commission member, told the commission that the fire marshal had researched the situation and said it was illegal, based on fire codes, to operate a church in a home.

With that in mind, Howard suggested that the commission deny the Bakers’ request to operate a church in their home.

But before the commission took the vote which would have denied the church, Gray suggested that the Bakers withdraw the request and look for a more appropriate place.

“Would we have known about this if they weren’t here tonight?” Gray asked City Planner Chip McCulley. “No, they came to us because they wanted to make sure they were following city codes. We’ve had no complaints at all—and probably would not have even known about the church if they didn’t come in,” he said.

“And our code enforcement officers, do they work on Sundays?” Gray asked. “No, they do not,” McCulley said, but he added that since the city now knows about the church, it can’t really ignore it.

A number of the commissioners applauded the Bakers for their effort and endeavor.

“If you think about it, most churches probably started in homes,” commissioner Chad Young said. But the city codes were clear, and the Bakers withdrew their request.

If the city caught them in violation of city code, they would be warned, but if the commission had voted no and the Bakers continue to meet with their congregation, they would face fines.

The commission also approved the final plat and site plan for a proposed Chick-fil-A restaurant. The company is buying the land occupied by the abandoned TCBY restaurant in the old Wal-Mart shopping Center on North First Street.

The TCBY building will be torn down and Chick-fil-A will build a 3,921-square-foot restaurant, complete with landscaping, new curb gutters and a sidewalk that basically goes nowhere, but is required by ordinance.

“A sidewalk going nowhere isn’t any good,” Gray said.

The commission asked the restaurant company to extend the sidewalk another 100 feet along the street edge of a section of the shopping center parking lot that is being called a protective area.

It is a section that the restaurant is planning to use for overflow parking and will be landscaping it, but is not buying it.

Restaurant officials said they would comply with the request.

The only other item on the commission’s agenda, the final plat for the Meadows Subdivision near Homer Adkins Pre-K Center, was pulled from the agenda before the meeting.