Demolition of Macon’s Tremont Baptist Church approved

lmorris@macon.comFebruary 24, 2014 

Tremont Baptist Church, which has stood at 860 Forsyth St. in Macon for more than 115 years, received approval Monday to demolish the crumbling structure.

In a 3-2 vote, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved allowing the demolition of the downtown church building during a rehearing on the matter.

The vote by the commission ends months of meetings regarding the demolition request by church members, who moved out of the building several years ago.

The building sat empty, for sale and deteriorating for about seven years until Tremont received a contract before the end of 2013 to buy it for a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, contingent on getting the demolition permit.

Monday, Commissioners Jeane Easom and Sarah Gerwig-Moore voted to deny the demolition, and commissioners Kamal Azar, Bryan Scott and Ashok Patel voted to approve it.

The vote to allow the demolition is a turnaround from a Dec. 9 meeting to deny it. The church appealed that denial, and at its Feb. 10 meeting the commission voted to allow the rehearing with the same split decision. New information was presented at that meeting regarding the condition of the structure and what it would cost to stabilize it. It was described by an engineering company as “in danger of imminent collapse.”

Azar said Monday he struggled with what to do, but the building was about to collapse and while it has some historic significance, “we are just talking about brick and mortar.”

“We are just saving a structure. The church has moved on,” Azar said. “I don’t see it to be retained as a church. It’s not going to be a museum. ... It could be a bar or a restaurant (no matter who bought the building). ... It’s just unfortunate. This building has missed its time. ... The structure is collapsing. The church has moved on.”

Gerwig-Moore took an opposing stance.

“I can’t see any of us can say this building does not have historical interest,” she said. “I appreciate that the congregation members have said that the history of this (church) moves with them. ... But there is a historical component that I think is important to the rest of the community as well.”

Gerwig-Moore mentioned that she learned recently that the KKK burned a cross in front of the structure protesting civil rights, and that Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech there.

“If the building is razed, then we lose a place to point to say, ‘That happened there and I’m ashamed that happened in my community,’ or ‘(King) spoke there and I’m proud of that happening in my community,’ ” she said. “And that’s a community issue.”

Before the original demolition request, the church obtained a contract to sell the property after demolition. Lou Patel, of D&D Middle Ga. LLC, plans to build a Dunkin’ Donuts shop on the site after the church is razed.

From the time the matter was first heard Nov. 12, talk of demolishing the decaying, vacant church building drew opposition from the Historic Macon Foundation. The group offered to buy the property for the same contracted price the church has with Patel. However, the church’s congregation voted to continue to pursue the contract with Patel.

Josh Rogers, executive director of Historic Macon, said again Monday that his group continues to oppose the demolition and still wants to buy the building.

“It is not nearly as bad as has been described,” Rogers said.

Historic Macon could “put the building back into service,” he said.

Real estate agent Jim Rollins, who is representing Tremont Baptist, said the church tried to negotiate with Historic Macon and had asked Rogers to help find another location for Dunkin’ Donuts and to pay the developer for the expenses that had been paid out already.

“They chose not to accept our offer to allow the building to be saved and find us another location,” Rollins said.

Further, Rollins said Historic Macon and planning and zoning had “interfered with a contract we have. Turning down the permit so that someone else can buy this building ... that is clearly interference with the contract.”

After the meeting, P&Z executive director Jim Thomas said the church could pick up the permit to allow the demolition any time. It would then present that to the Macon-Bibb County Business Development Services department.

“It would be in their hands as to the timing (of the demolition), Thomas said.

The design of the planned Dunkin’ Donuts building would have to go before the Design Review Board for its recommendation to the commission, which is expected to happen in March, he said.

Other items on the agenda were:

CONDITIONAL USES:

4175 Bloomfield Road: Conditional use to allow a freestanding ice machine, C-4 District. Jeff Dyson, Kooler Ice Inc., applicant. Approved.

2219 Gray Highway and 2225 Gray Highway: Conditional use to allow modular and manufactured home sales, C-2 District. Ken Inboden, Chad Aycook, American Dream Homes, applicant. Approved.

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