ELIZABETHTOWN — For the first time in a decade, Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell had to cast a rare deciding vote to split a tie in a controversial debate at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.
The issue at hand was one the Council has been dealing with for four months. In April, Hilda Odom applied for a special use permit for a piece of property located at 104 S. Cypress St., which she desired to be used for the establishment of a church. The Potter’s House, as the place of worship would be called, would be located in the old Sofa Time building, which lies on the outer edge of the Central Business District, a 2.5-block area around the downtown section.
Since churches were not allowed as special uses in the CBD, the Council — as did the Planning Board at an earlier meeting — denied the application, stating it would revisit the ordinances about special use permits. In June, the board opted to allow churches in the CBD as a special use.
At Monday’s meeting, Odom appeared again to apply under the new provision. The board discussed the issue at noon, held a public hearing during the evening session, and voted on the matter at night.
“I don’t really have a problem with it being located where it is, and I’m not against churches or synagogues or anything like it, but the CBD is only 1 percent of the town,” said Council member Ricky Leinwand.
Councilman Howell Clark agreed, in part.
“We don’t want to eat up retail space with churches on the street, but what we are talking about is on the edge of the CBD — you cross the street either way and you’re out of the CBD, and it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the CBD,” he said.
When Leinwand brought up the possibility of rezoning the property as commercial, council members seemed to be in agreement that doing so would open up another can of worms no one wanted — the possibility of a night club, bar, or lounge in the area.
Clark pointed out that when they changed the ordinance to allow for churches as special uses in the CBD, he thought they did so with the provision that any church would have to provide off-street parking.
“That’s the thing that makes this work is that they can share parking with (adjacent property owners),” he said.
After defining the CBD as the area between Jessup Motors on the east and Leinwand Park on the west, between Poplar Street and slightly north of Broad Street, Clark added, “If you look at that area, there’s nowhere to put a church with dedicated parking unless one of the banks closes.”
“Let’s try to look down the road,” offered council member Herman Lewis. “Let’s say we do have a building available. Are we opening it up for churches, who don’t pay taxes?”
At the evening session, board members continued the discussion and held a public hearing.
“I entered this journey not … realizing how complicated it would be,” Odom said. “I feel this will not affect the town, except to be a good thing.”
“Now that we will have the rescue squad on Cypress Street, my concern is with the cars parked there,” explained Dicky Glenn.
“We have 20 churches in town, and we welcome all churches,” commented Leinwand. “But there is a reason they’re not in the CBD …we need churches (in town), but we need commerce in the CBD … so we don’t have to raise taxes. More commerce downtown means less taxes residents have to pay.”
“I’m satisfied we have a unique property and won’t have to worry about the problems we discussed,” remarked Council member Paula Greene.
Clark made a motion to allow the church as a special use under the condition that it provide off-street parking. When it came time for a vote, Clark, Greene, and Rufus Lloyd voted in favor, and Leinwand, Glenn, and Lewis voted against, leaving Campbell to cast the deciding vote.
“In my 10 years as mayor, I’ve never had to break a tie,” Campbell laughed. “I agree with (Greene) that this will be a unique opportunity that will not come up again, and I vote for it.”
“We thank you, and we promise we won’t do any harm to the town,” Odom replied.
In other business, the board:
— Approved entering into a loan agreement with USDA for Phase II of the Downtown Revitalization project.
— Approved an ordinance allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
— Agreed to continue pursuing the renovation of concession stands and restrooms at Leinwand Park.
— Agreed to commit up to $15,000 to test a well in the Industrial Park for a future well site.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.