Thursday, February 14, 2008
Hearing draws huge church crowd
By SUE WATSON
An estimated crowd of 160 church goers from at least six local churches made a stand for their faith at a public hearing in Holly Springs City Hall during the February 5 board of aldermen meeting.
The people for faith appealed to the board to not push churches out of the planned unit development district (PUD) on the south side of town, included in some basic items of proposed amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance. The area of interest in the ordinance dealt with the prohibition of churches in B-4 Planned Commercial Districts except by appeal before the board of aldermen.
All aldermen were present at the hearing.
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry pre-faced the hearing by saying the board has 60 days to enact the amendments and the public can submit comment in writing on the ordinance changes until the matter becomes law.
Representatives for several area churches were permitted to speak on the issue, including Swayze Alford with Holcomb Dunbar Law Firm in Oxford, Hoyt Johnson, Greg Gresham, Carl Brandon, Curtis Ferrell and Sue Thomas.
Alford pointed out that adult entertainment, clubs, bars and taverns as well as churches included in the Planned Commercial District do not mix.
He said there could be a concern where establishments that serve alcohol or a club could clash with the location of a church.
“We argue that by excluding a church, the city would violate a federal law,” he said. “It appears that it (the ordinance) treats churches differently than other businesses in that area (south Holly Springs).”
Up next was Hoyt Johnson, who asked to make three points.
Residential growth is likely in the area and churches historically locate where rooftops go up or rooftops follow churches, he said, citing the number of churches in Memphis.
“So churches should be a part of any zoning,” he said.
Johnson’s second point was that he believes the city wants to protect the zone for its potential to expand the tax base via business development on the south side.
“We know businesses don’t pay taxes – people pay taxes,” he said. “And a church is not sales tax free. We have businesses in Holly Springs that failed because they weren’t running their business properly, not because there was a church in the neighborhood. We’ve seen businesses grow because they were run right.”
Johnson’s third point - “God should be able to put His place anywhere His people want it.”
“It’s all God’s land to start with,” said another person who did not identify himself by name.
Realtor Greg Gresham was next up to the plate.
“With respect to churches, we’ve shown property out there to churches last year,” he said.
He then cited from the U.S. Constitution.
Gresham provided examples of two churches in Memphis that attracted growth to the area after they were built.
“Bellevue Baptist was put in a field and it spurred growth,” he said.
“Let’s not kid ourselves about what we’re going to have here in the short term. It’s optional for a church in a B-4 zone.”
He added that churches are sometimes opened in store fronts.
“As a landowner I don’t think you should restrict churches, and to do something to result in a lawsuit is ill advised in the first place,” Gresham said.
Carl Brandon, up next, said when Holly Springs formed as a town it had nothing much more than churches.
“We need to think about this stuff,” he said. “He (God) wants His people to learn the Word ... that they might have the opportunity to serve Him.”
Curtis Ferrell, pastor at First Baptist in Holly Springs, pointed out that people will want to move to a community that has a church on its corner.
“My desire for Holly Springs is that we have churches good enough and attractive enough so people who come in will want to move here,” he said.
He then gave the mayor and board of aldermen a blessing for “the job they do.”
As people flowed out of city hall after the meeting, they shook hands and encouraged each other with much spirit.
Pastor Tony Roberts with Heritage Apostolic Church said he was pleased and impressed with the large public turnout for the hearing.
“I was impressed with the value expressed by those who spoke and I believe the city aldermen will make the right choice,” he said.
Churches represented included Lighthouse Apostolic Church, Anderson Chapel CME, Heritage Apostolic Church, First Baptist, Latter Rain, Grace Chapel CME, The Ark of Safety, and New Hope #1.
Other amendments to the zoning ordinances pertained to upper floor housing in downtown, signs, PUDs, maps, and historic and architectural specifications.
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