Tremont Temple appeals P&Z decision to not allow demolition of church

Georgia Public BroadcastingJanuary 7, 2014 

Adam Ragusea/GPB News A “for sale” sign is posted in front of the Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Macon. Church members, who now worship at a different location, want to sell the historic building to a developer.

The congregation of Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church is fighting the denial of a demolition permit for their old church building in downtown Macon.

The Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission voted a month ago to deny the permit that would allow Macon businessman Lou Patel to demolish the historic Forsyth Street structure to make way for a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.

The congregation now worships at a new church on Bloomfield Road, and church members say they need to sell the old building to Patel to finance their continuing ministry.

A member of the congregation filed an appeal of the commission’s decision on Friday, the commission’s Executive Director Jim Thomas said.

On Feb. 10, commissioners are scheduled to consider whether there is any new information that would warrant a full rehearing.

“I’m a little surprised, but I’m also understanding,” said Josh Rogers, executive director of Historic Macon, which has offered to purchase the church from the congregation and preserve it.

The congregation has been working with Patel for a long time on a deal that remains under contract, Rogers said, and they might feel obligated to try to make it work.

“As long as there’s a small hope (of obtaining the demolition permit), I think the congregation is going to stick with that developer,” he said.

Jim Rollins, the real estate agent representing both Patel and the congregation in the transaction, declined to comment. Additional calls to reach church leadership directly went unanswered.

Rogers said he thinks Historic Macon’s offer on the property is financially comparable to Patel’s, but he’s never seen the contract.

If the commission denies the appeal, the congregation’s next option would be a hearing in Bibb County Superior Court. In that event, a judge would only be able to consider the integrity of the planning commission’s process, not the merits of its decision, Thomas said.

The planning commission’s design review board determined that the church, which played a significant role in Macon’s civil rights movement, is of sufficient historical significance to be preserved.

Adam Ragusea is the Macon bureau chief of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Contact him at aragusea@gpb.org or 478-301-5764.

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