Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Growing church vs. historic bungalows

It was easily the most interesting of the rezoning cases the City Council heard last night – and the one that brings up the trickiest issue of the evening: What rules, if any, should the city have to limit institutions that encroach into neighborhoods? And how do you deal with big ugly surface parking lots? They're not pedestrian-friendly, nor do they contribute to the much-loved-by-planners "vibrant urban village." They're also polluters, due to polluted storm runoff.

A church in the Wilmore neighborhood wants to expand and build a large new building and a big surface parking lot on a street now holding several historic bungalows. (By "historic," here, I don't mean designated landmarks or in a designated historic district, simply a neighborhood that dates to the turn of the 19th-20th century and has an ambiance akin to Dilworth, Elizabeth and Wesley Heights.) The church has said it won't demolish the five houses but will move them to other property it owns.

The matter was a public hearing on zoning case 2008-158. The council vote should come next month.

Several things made this an interesting presentation. First, the council chamber was virtually filled with members of the church, Greater Galilee Baptist Church, whose current sanctuary (shown above, photo courtesy of the church) is on South Mint Street at West Park Avenue.

Second, one speaker in favor of rezoning had a great line: "We, as people, are in noncompliance. With Jesus."

Yet opponents had some good points: Why should a church be allowed to remove five houses and put up a surface parking lot? As neighbor Chip Cannon put it, this would be putting "a suburban mega-church in the center of a small-scale pedestrian neighborhood."

Some political realities are in order. This church is African American. Two at-large council members are running for mayor and both want African American votes (though black candidate Anthony Foxx has an edge there). Among nine at-large candidates (for four slots), three of the four Democrats are African American. Two at-large incumbents – Democrat Susan Burgess and Republican Edwin Peacock – will have to vote on this petition. Burgess, in particular, will want as many Democratic votes as she can get in November. If she faces black voters' triple-shotting for the three black at-large candidates, she'll have a problem.

Another political reality: No one wants to vote against a church, especially an obviously growing church. Maybe they'd do that in some other city in some other state, but in oh-so-Christian Charlotte? Not on your (eternal) life.

Yet another political reality: How fair would it be to crack down on an African American church when Carolinas Medical Center has been allowed to devour vast tracts of Dilworth with, near as I can tell, hardly a peep of protest from the city? And the affluent and predominantly white Myers Park United Methodist plopped a surface parking lot (nicely landscaped, though) at the prime corner of Providence-Providence-Queens-Queens. No one told them, "No." (Note to out-of-town readers: That intersection is for real. Don't even ask.)

Final political reality: I chanced to be sitting near Planning Director Debra Campbell and asked if there were any zoning standards that said you can't put in a parking lot, and she said, only in the UMUD (uptown) zoning. I asked if planners had considered cracking down on surface parking lots in other zoning categories. She just laughed – heartily, I must add – and said, "No way."


Anonymous said...

methinks the local people are screwed

Anonymous said...

what about most shady developer in town? I would vote for ghazi

Anonymous said...

all that matters is that it's a big church full of black voters

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

from what I heard at last night meeting is that the neighbors of the church want to control what the church builds and how it improves it's worship service. But none of them was around when only the church stood with the community to help fight against the drugs and rampent crimes in the community.
Ask Chip where does he live in regards to the church? Another question how can the community speak against the church moving houses to land that they already own. It is not like they are asking from donations.
This kind of foolishness makes me want to join the church just to fight against common day foolishness.
Grow up people

Anonymous said...

It would seem to be less a question of race and more a question of cold hard cash. Myers Park vs. the ecclesial community here....follow the cash...there your answer will be. Also, if a person is born in Africa and later becomes an American citizen, then he/she is African-American. Otherwise, the people in question are black.

Tom said...

ROFL at Anon 3:31. Way to wedge in your latest buzzwords into an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with "socialism" or "racism".

The problem with this situation is simply that there are no rules or ordinances to govern this sort of zoning other than with the UMUD designation. Period. That lack throws the entire issue onto the backs of politicians wanting votes, who are going to decide the issue based on what fits their election options.

Zoning laws in this city are exceptionally weak, and developers are able to do just about anything they want to do unless there is a serious neighborhood opposition. You want these issues decided fairly and consistently, draw up some zoning laws with teeth and enforcement, and the political component goes away.

Anonymous said...

Why not start zoning areas for NON-impervious parking lots?? I'm pretty sure they probably cost more - but the city could counter that by giving non-impervious parking lots a break on storm water runoff charges?

tozmervo said...

There are a couple of questions I would ask:

First, does the zoning code require more parking spaces than the church will actually use? Code is usually designed around a "worst case scenario," which is ridiculous. Half this planet is paved with parking spaces that are never used. And in an area like Wilmore, it is much more likely (as opposed to Ballantyne)that people may not be driving to church.

Second, how feasible is on-street and shared parking? Lots of businesses aren't even open on Sundays and have plenty of parking that could be utilized.

mybagsarepacked said...

Yep, just pull the race card in Charlotte and you get whatever you want - even other peoples children. Just ask the parents in Mint Hill or Cotswold.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the church is that they are trying to do things as cheap as possible when it comes to making the parking lot and fencing asthetically pleasing. Chainlink and barbed wire. The beauty of the neighborhood is truly going to suffer if the church gets its way. It will look more like a nice minimum security prison, which in that neighborhood, would not be the worst idea.

Anonymous said...

I like how some people say things like "Well, you weren't there 15 years ago so you don't have any say in what the neighborhood is doing now!". Now that's a solid argument. Yeah, I guess owning property and having a say in how your neighborhood grows and develops only applies to "folk who been there a long time now". Give me a break. How would you feel if someone told you that you had no say in your neighborhood and plans to build a giant parking lot there because, quote, "you haven't been here long enough". It is just ludicrous.

FYI, if you think this church is out there "fighting drugs" in Wilmore, think again. I live there, I know...I went to the meetings at the church about this rezoning. When asked why they don't involve themselves in more Wilmore activity, they didn't answer (they don't sponsor events like Wilmore day). When asked why they let vagrants drink right across the street from the church in an empty lot they own, they responded "well what can we do about it."

I'll tell you where Chip lives in relation to it - in the neighborhood, and that is all that counts. His house is just as important as mine as is all neighbors in Wilmore.

You want to ask questions? Ask yourself why a church is buying all this land in a residential neighborhood anyway, doing subpar rennovations, and then renting it out for a profit. Is that God's plan? Why do they need a rezoning to MUDD and a ton of exemptions that no other institution would get? Why do politicians make decisions for communities with nothing other than their self interests in mind and why does a reporter (the author of this blog) not think that is a problem??? Am I the only one that thinks it is bloody awful that it comes down to "votes" and not "what is right"?

Anonymous said...

All you NIMBY do-gooders are perfectly free to outbid the church for the land in question.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
All you NIMBY do-gooders are perfectly free to outbid the church for the land in question.

Umm, get your facts straight buddy. This isn't land for sale...this is a church asking to rezone their land so they can make exceptions to the normal rules that apply in a neighborhood. In other words, they actually are out of compliance (i.e. the size of church and parking they want aren't legally zoned for a religious institution in a residential neighborhood). They are not only asking for a rezoning to change that but on top of that they want to build a huge, out of place structure right in the middle of the neighborhood.

Get your facts straight before you post.

Anonymous said...

You're still using the term "historic" much too loosely. Those here in Dilworth do the same thing. Have you been to Wilmore lately to see what other "historical bungalows" have turned into at the hands of developers? Dilworth's architecture historicity is pretty much obliterated, a joke. Wilmore is headed in the same direction, so let the church do whatever they want. It's better than a strip club, or a "business center". This is a CHURCH in a black community... a community where church means MUCH MORE than what us yuppies in our fake-plastic-historic-houses can ever imagine.

fly_swatter said...

I disagree that race is an issue. This problem occurs with institutions in most older neighborhoods (CMC-Dilworth, Presby-Elizabeth, JCSU-Biddleville), so do not start a false argument. Why don't the Wilmore people do something about the real nuisances such as slum lords and non-confomring industrial properties?

Anonymous said...

Churches have a goal. That goal is to grow. Many are successful and expand in their current location. Other successful churches grow and move to another part of town where they can grow ever bigger, leaving behind an empty church which will eventually be bought by a smaller congregation with the same stated goal of growth.

If you move in near a church you can just expect to deal with it. Some churches just happen to be better neighbors than others. Some of the worst parking in Charlotte occurs on Sunday morning in front of Myers Park Baptist Church. Need I remind you that this church tore down two homes (very nice homes) and moved another so that they could build a courtyard next to their new gymnasium?

And another thing, we should tax church property. I didn't say to tax the offeratory plate, just the real estate. Some of these churches have multi-million dollar facilities on multi-million dollar sites (including the one I attend) and don't pay taxes. It's a folly.

Anonymous said...


You state that this is THEIR LAND (i.e. the church's land).

Last I checked, this is still America, so THEY (the church) can do WHAT THEY WANT on THEIR land.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately... or fortunately... you can't do what you want to with your land anymore. There is a common good at work. It's part of living in a society. If you don't want to be part of society, then I suggest moving to another country somewhere... or the jungle. These rules are in place to protect many things. Scale within a community, character, property values, etc. I sick of hearing people view everything as a negative. As a church learn to work with your neighborhood. Hire an [ARCHITECT] and [DESIGN] something that both the church and the community can be proud of. Challenges lead to creativity!

Anonymous said...

Let's just call the city what it is . . . the disposable city. We never keep anything, we just throw it out and build something new on top of it. However, I have to say, since they are doing that everywhere, this would be the wrong time to start doing things differently. Perhaps we need to make some regulations for zoning for historic buildings(official or not). Or are we too afraid on not keeping up with "progress".

Storylady said...

I live in the western North Carolina region and own a historic home in a lovely neighborhood in which a local church has purchased 3 homes with long range plans to eventually "pave paradise and put up a parking lot." They have demolished one home. The church currently rents out these lovely homes but does not properly maintain them. It is tragic to see the landscape of a historic area change. I sympathize with these residents and with the church's dilemma for growth.

Anonymous said...

Forget about religion for a minute.

Churches are a business, a corporation if you will. Some of them are huge. They gobble up prime real estate just as bad as any developer does. Black churches, white churches, Catholic, Protestant, all of them do it.

Why aren't churches taxed by the federal and local governments? Just because you have freedom of religion doesn't mean it should be free. I drive a car. I paid tax on it when I bought it and pay tax on it every year that I own it. Ditto for a house. Ditto for land, and virtually everything else of value, including my wages.

Churches should be taxed just as everyone else is taxed.

2whls3spds said...

I have watched my childhood neighborhood destroyed by an ever expanding church. They bought up homes as the came available, promised they would relocate them. Most were torn down and crappy unlandscaped parking lots were put in. The ultimate destruction was the cutting down of several 150 year old Red Oak trees that were "in the way" of there new gymnasium. Many churches do not make good neighbors, yet others do. The church I attended in the same neighborhood had purchased enough property at it's outset to allow for expansion, they also requested and received permission to utilize local business parking lots on Sunday mornings and in exchange helped to maintain and landscape them.

Anonymous said...

White, godless yuppies v. black, spirit-filled-n-bible-believin' po'folks.

Where's Elmer Gantry when you need him? Oh...Charlotte has lots and lots of Elmer Gantrys. We are world-class when it comes to Elmer Gantrys.

At least we are world class about something. Pass the popcorn, please.

greatscot said...

ALL churches should pay taxes, both income and property. How much would the average homeowner's property tax bill be reduced if ALL churches were required to pay their FAIR share?

Anonymous said...

A tear drops from Mary's eyes every time an old house or building, no matter how outdated, disappears. Get over it folks, things change. A church trying to expand and better serve its community is not such a bad thing. Surely this would be better than those overpriced yuppie McMansions that are built in place of other old houses (or sacred cows in Mary's eyes).

triadwatch said...

neighborhoods need to know that they can use the protest petition on zoning cases, check it out. It is state law

Anonymous said...

"ALL churches should pay taxes, both income and property. How much would the average homeowner's property tax bill be reduced if ALL churches were required to pay their FAIR share?"


Though, I would be willing to give churches a tax break on charity work like running a soup kitchen(proselyting does not count). Tax a new church building unless it is used as a homeless shelter 7 nights a week.

Other country clubs have to pay taxes, churches should too.

Jumper said...

Hard cases make good law - or is it bad law? I forget.

It is a hard case, and so it will draw some conflict and divisiveness whichever way it goes.

I would say the trick would be to do whatever would be done if it were not a church.

It should be noted there is already a huge parking lot (housing impounded cars by S&R Wreckers?) next door. Too bad the church cannot simply purchase that property.

Here is interesting reading. Long ago some churches owned slums. Things are better now.


Anonymous said...

"No way" to cracking down on surface parking in TOD?!

Anonymous said...

Seems these days, MUDD zoning is only used to ironically reduce parking requirements (yet still build it in surface form).

Rarely is the "Mixed-Use Development District," or MUDD zoning, actually used to build anything mixed-use. IKEA is another fine example of a single use with ample surface parking ironically zoned MUDD.

First, the City needs to reserve aptly named MUDD zoning for mixed-use projects. Second, the City should reduce the parking requirements of conventional zoning districts (Business, Commericial, Institutional), to eliminate the MUDD-zoning incentive for single uses to get out of their parking requirements.

Anonymous said...

companies in the area dont want people parking on their property would any of you want people parking in your driveways or blocking the front of your houses 7 days a week, you need to live next to a growing church before you respond to what you would do instead of responding to something that you just asume is not a problem. if it was in your back yard then maybe you would understand a little better, and
just for politians to worry about votes almost makes you wonder why this world is in the shape it is in
to begin with. there are churches out there that do work with the neighborhoods and some that dont
so understand the facts before responding. remember do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

pissed said...

You mentioned CMC buying property in Dilworth, and why City Council asked questions then. Because the city will bend over backwards to do whatever CMC wants. Once they complete their acquisitions, they will request rezoning and there will probably be no meeting about it, just a back-room rubber stamp. Watch and see.

pissed said...

I meant "why City Council DIDN"T ask questions then."