Historic Tremont Temple Baptist denied demolition approval

lmorris@macon.comDecember 9, 2013 

PandZ

Members of Tremont Temple Baptist Church listen to a discussion during the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Monday.

WOODY MARSHALL — wmarshall@macon.com Buy Photo

In a 4-1 vote, Macon’s zoning commission denied an application that would have allowed the demolition of Tremont Temple Baptist Church in downtown Macon.

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission made it clear Monday that the church at 860 Forsyth St. has 30 days to appeal the denial, but church members declined comment as they left the meeting.

The matter was first heard Nov. 12 and then deferred until Monday to allow the commission’s design review board to consider it. Earlier this month, the review board said the demolition would be inappropriate, but it was up to the commission to make the final decision. Talk of demolishing the vacant church building drew opposition from the Historic Macon Foundation led by Executive Director Josh Rogers.

The church, built in 1897, has been for sale seven years. It recently found a buyer who wants to raze it and build a doughnut shop with a drive-thru lane. The congregation moved out two years ago to the church’s current Bloomfield Road location.

Jim Rollins, a real estate agent with The Summit Group representing the church, said Monday the Tremont building on Forsyth is “in absolutely poor shape.” He said the roof would have to be replaced and the building has been “eaten up with termites.” He said some pews had fallen through the wooden floors.

Rollins said the church has since made an offer to Historic Macon, but ”the letter has gone unanswered.”

Hunter Saussy, president of Saussy Engineering from Savannah who is working with Rollins, said the building has multiple problems, so much so that it wasn’t safe to completely inspect the roof.

“Everything we can see is bad,” Saussy said.

Rogers said Monday that since the November meeting, Historic Macon Foundation had offered -- through the church’s trustee -- to buy the property for the same contracted price it now has with a developer. Rogers said he didn’t call Rollins because “we don’t require a broker’s services.”

The historic foundation also would honor the church’s plan to separately sell certain items from the church including stained glass windows, the pews and the marble steps, Rogers said.

In addition, the historic group would look for “a private team of developers” to rehabilitate the structure and perhaps put a food court with as many as four tenants in the building.

“We have cash in hand and ready to close,” Rogers said, adding that the legal paperwork is all that needs to be done.

After hearing from speakers on both sides of the issue, the commission asked for a comment from the church.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Camile Holmes, said he couldn’t speak for the church then because the congregation would have to discuss it since “some of this information we are just hearing ourselves. ... We didn’t know Mr. Rogers was going to come and say what he said.”

Commission Chairwoman Sarah Gerwig-Moore said the commission has to balance property rights with what’s good for the community. Since the foundation was making the same financial offer to the church without demolition, it made it easier for her to vote to deny the requested demolition.

Commissioner Al Tillman made a motion to allow the demolition but when it didn’t get a second, the motion failed. Commissioner Jeane Easom then made a motion to deny the demolition. The motion passed with Tillman voting against it.

To reach writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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