Thankful Baptist advised to go back to the drawing board with development plan
By Mariann Martin, contributor
Decatur City planning commissioners told Thankful Missionary Baptist Church consultants and community members they needed to work together to come up with a plan that works for everyone before they proceed with selling property on West College Avenue to a developer.
At their monthly meeting Tuesday evening, planning commissioners voted to table requests to rezone the property and grant an exception to streetscape requirements. Several dozen community members, church members and consultants spent over an hour discussing the project and answering commissioners’ questions.
“You need to balance the hardships on both sides,’’ Planning Commissioner Harold Buckley Jr. told attendees at the end of the meeting. “The church has articulated hardships, and I’m inclined to listen to what they have to say, but we are also going to look very hard at potential public detriment. I urge you to work really hard to find common ground and try to address the concerns. That way when you come back to us, we don’t have to wade through a big mess.”
Thankful Baptist, a historic black church with about 250 members, wants to sell part of its Oakhurst property to fund improvements to the space. The church has been at its present location since 1971. The congregation was founded in 1882, making it the oldest African American Baptist church in Decatur and the second oldest in DeKalb County.
Tuesday evening, consultants showed plans for 16 town homes on the one-acre property. Four of the town homes would be “live-work” and would include low impact commercial space. Twelve town homes would be residential. The plan would increase the green space and the tree canopy on the lot.
The proposed development does not have a buyer yet.
Oakhurst community members who spoke against the proposed development expressed appreciation for the Thankful congregation and its importance in the community. The church allows people to park in its parking lot for various purposes, including providing overflow parking for the nearby Oakhurst Elementary School.
“We are not trying to be adversarial to the church and we appreciate them as neighbors,” said Dan Baskerville, who lives in the neighborhood. “We are asking for a deferral, not a denial. We sincerely want the church to be successful.”
Community members said they would like identify a developer and have them involved in the planning. They want to see more detailed site plans. They would also like to see plans to address increased traffic and additional students for local schools that the development would likely bring.
The property is currently zoned for commercial and institutional, but the request asked that it be rezoned for Commercial/High Density Residential and Neighborhood Commercial. Several people said they would like it rezoned to a lower density Mixed Use – Neighborhood Urban.
Planning commissioners said they would listen to the requests after both sides had worked together more closely and reached a workable compromise.