ERICKSON: P&Z got it wrong

December 13, 2013 

The rumor in church and the grocery store and out at local restaurants is a Costco is coming to Zebulon Road. The rumor is those parcels of land to be rezoned on Zebulon will be rezoned for the big box.

For a long time, the Planning & Zoning Commission has not extended development past the elementary school and church on Zebulon Road. I suspect they may be on the verge of changing their mind. I think, in doing so, they will get that decision as wrong as the decision they just made -- refusing Tremont Temple Baptist Church’s plan for demolition.

Historic preservationists are rejoicing that Tremont Temple Baptist Church will not be bulldozed. Planning & Zoning decided it should interfere with the sale of property between two private parties to save our history.

But what history is it that we are saving? We have no regular vigils at the church. No one goes into the church. In fact, we know it would not be safe to go into the church. The roof leaks, the floor rots and termites eat. In fact, the roof is going to continue leaking, the floor continue rotting and termites continue feasting in the interim.

To be sure, Historic Macon will now involve itself. But Historic Macon sat on the sidelines for years while Tremont Temple tried to find a buyer. During those years, the church deteriorated. Only after the church found a buyer Historic Macon did not like, did preservationists get involved. Until then, no one wanted the church building, including its owner.

It is all well and good to save history, but no one wanted to save the history until it was almost gone. It was a history that had no meaning to them until they had almost lost control over it. Those who did control the history were ready to move on from it. Those closest to the history -- the congregants themselves -- found a buyer and government intervened to stop the sale.

The Historic Macon Foundation has set a dangerous precedent with the help of Planning & Zoning. Properties that may have history someone wants to hold on to are on notice to let their property deteriorate as much as possible before contemplating a sale. Make sure the property is not salvageable in the least before putting it up for sale. That will make it harder for Historic Macon and Planning & Zoning to deprive them of their right to a private contract.

And what of the property now? Historic Macon will buy it. For what use? How long will the property sit there deteriorating? Will Historic Macon be aggressive in securing the roof and killing the termites? And how will the building be used? It was too costly for the congregants of Tremont Temple Baptist Church to maintain. It is doubtful another church would move in and establish itself in that area with enough revenue to keep going.

So it will be a church edifice with some other use, most likely, if there is a use at all. Otherwise it will be just another abandoned building downtown, but one Historic Macon ensures will not collapse. Thousands will continue to pass it every day unaware of any historic role it played because it was not a historic role anyone was interested in saving until the church decided to sell.

Historic preservation is something more of us should support. But no one cared about Tremont Temple Baptist Church until the congregation cared enough to move on from it. Then do-gooders and government decided they would care enough to stop them.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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