An application for a “place of worship” in downtown Macon turned into a discussion Monday about what to call a place that, according to the applicant, will hold Mass once a month, offer prayers and communion.
The application, presented to the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, is for Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church on the second floor of 442-446 Second St. in the central business district. Although the application states the church expects to have 25-40 members, applicant Michael Rizkalla said Monday it would have four members and would not be open to the public. However, later he said plans are for the church to grow its membership.
“I never called it a church, (a commission staff person) called it a church,” Rizkalla said. Later he said, “I want a place for a priest to give my son communion ... It’s a religious place for the two hours (a month) we hold a meeting.”
A discussion about whether to call it a church or a place of assembly came up because of local and state liquor laws.
The licensing requirements impose a minimum distance of 300 feet between businesses that sell alcohol and churches.
Commissioner Kamal Azar said maybe Rizkalla could call it a meeting place. But Executive Director Jim Thomas said what really matters is how the state liquor license department defines it.
Betty Schiermeister, who helped Rizkalla with the application, said she referred to it as a “religious meeting place,” and a place to have prayers.
The proposed church would affect future users that might want to sell alcohol as well as other businesses planning to come to that area, Commissioner Al Tillman said.
“There are local and state laws that will hurt them,” he said. “You really pose a serious issue for us.”
The subject property is next door to Roasted Cafe, operated by Rizkalla’s son, and it sells beer and wine. Also, a liquor store has been approved at 458 Second St. -- 85 feet away -- but has not opened.
A zoning permit has been issued for a restaurant serving alcohol at 496 Second St., 228 feet away from the proposed church, according to the commission’s staff report.
Ricky Hill told the commission he is planning to build a bar across Second Street from the proposed church.
“I’m fixing to spend a half a million dollars and I haven’t applied for a liquor license yet,” Hill said. “I don’t have a problem with (what Rizkalla wants) providing it doesn’t hurt me when I apply for a liquor license. ... I’m fixing to put 10 to15 employees over there and I’ve been at it for a year. You’ve got nine different businesses downtown that serve alcohol that are within 300 feet of this location.”
Ryan Griffin, who owns five properties on Second, Poplar and Cherry streets that are all within 300 feet of the proposed church, said he doesn’t have a problem with a church downtown.
“But what happens ... if you make the determination it’s a place of assembly and (the state) determines it’s a church,” Griffin said. “That would be detrimental to this entire area. It’s a big problem and not something we can just glaze over in my opinion. ... (You could) label it as a place of assembly, but we know it’s a church.”
The commission decided to defer the application for at least 30 days until they could seek legal opinion.
The 2035 Future Land Use Map recommends central business district use for this property.
In 2009, the commission denied an application for a church on Poplar Street because it decided that a church in the downtown central business district would impact future land uses that serve alcohol, the commission report stated.
Other items on the agenda were:
5394 Thomaston Road: Conditional use to allow truck rental at an existing convenience store, C-2 District. Naza Food Inc., applicant. Withdrawn.
169 Gateway Drive: Conditional use to allow a shopping center, C-2 District. Jesse McInerney, MF-Macon LLC, applicant. Approved with conditions.
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS:
476 Second St.: Certificate of Appropriateness to allow exterior modifications, CBD-1 District. Bob Brown, BTBB Inc., applicant. Approved.
2002-2006 Tucker Road: Variance in lot width requirements to allow subdivision of property, A-Agricultural District. Betty Schiermeister, applicant. Approved.
ITEMS FOR COMMISSION RATIFICATION:
177 Woodfield Drive: Conditional use to allow a commercial sanitation service in an existing office/warehouse PDE District [12-1111]. Katherine Dennis, Swisher Hygiene, applicant. Approved.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.