November 8, 2017 10:50:11 AM
Starkville aldermen on Tuesday have given two Starkville churches 60 days to correct code compliance issues.
Aldermen voted 5-2 to give Second Baptist Church 60 days to cover up the bare soil on the construction site of its new sanctuary due to an expired building permit.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins introduced the motion, with a second from Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 3 Alderman David Little and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller voted in favor. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposed the motion.
Second Baptist, located on Yeates Street, started work on a new sanctuary after obtaining a building permit in fall 2015. However, the work ground to a halt shortly after starting.
Since then, project contractor Donald Andrew Crowther has been indicted on false pretense charges. Also, church trustees have filed a lawsuit against Crowther, Pastor Joseph Stone Jr. and Head Deacon Terry Miller in an effort to recover more than $400,000 they claim was paid to the contractor without board of trustees' authorization.
In the meantime, the construction site has languished, with bare dirt work visible and vegetation overgrowing parts of the site.
Stone, who spoke to aldermen during Tuesday's meeting, said the church knows something needs to be done, but asked for an extension of the building permit. He said he plans to present the matter to the church at a Dec. 10 meeting to let members decide to cover up the site or apply for a new permit.
Stone noted Second Baptist has long been active in the community and asked for time while the church is embroiled in the lawsuit.
"I think a church that has been here this long can use a little grace," Stone said. "I'm asking that the board will give us some grace and allow this to be placed on the agenda on the Dec. 10 meeting and allow the congregation to decide whether to apply for a building permit."
Perkins, however, said the bare construction site has generated complaints to the city. He said Second Baptist has to comply with city codes, regardless of its status.
"This is not the Second Baptist this community is used to," Perkins said. "A lot of my friends who have gone now who were members of this church -- if they were living, this mess wouldn't be there."
Perkins also called on Benny Hairston, chair of the church board of trustees, to come back to the board of aldermen's Jan. 16, 2018, meeting to give an update on the church.
Hairston, speaking to The Dispatch, said the church should do what it needs to in order to come into compliance with city code.
"I'm hoping that we can get to the end of this litigation and pick up the pieces afterward and move forward to get to the point where one day we will be able to build," Hairston said. "As of right now, we're not able to build."
Carver said he thought it was a "sad day" that something that should've been church business was brought before aldermen.
"I hate it for all involved," he said, "but I really don't think it's my business so I won't be voting in favor."
Antioch Third Baptist Church
Aldermen unanimously voted to give Antioch Third Baptist Church, located at the intersection of Gillespie and Spring streets, 60 days to fix its roof, which has extensive visible deterioration. Community Development Director Buddy Sanders' department notified the church of the code violation after Perkins asked for an inspection of the building.
During Tuesday's meeting, church pastor Mary Carr said Antioch has stood as a pillar in its community for more than 105 years and is working to correct the problem.
"There has been a group that has stepped forward and said they will help," Carr said. "They did not want me to name their names tonight. ...We are to meet with them to see what all is involved as soon as possible. We are starting the process of getting permits and donations."
Perkins, who moved to give the church 60 days -- until Jan. 7 -- to fix the roof, criticized the building's poor condition.
"This property is a mess," Perkins said. "It is a real disgrace to the city of Starkville, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. How in the world are you going to let God's house get looking like this?"
Perkins also said noted the church is close to the Russell Street corridor, which Starkville has poured millions of dollars into for renovations to turn the street into a primary thoroughfare to Mississippi State University from downtown.
"We cannot allow this church to sit and be located and situated on this million-dollar intersection," Perkins said. "I have people throughout the people complain all the time. I drive by the intersection and I feel bad about it and I'm not even a member of the church."
Carr told The Dispatch she believes 60 days should be enough time.
During the meeting, Perkins said he wants to enforce the city's code, regardless of if a church or some other entity violates them.
"People may say that I'm harsh, but I'm just doing my job," Perkins said.
In other business, aldermen:
■ approved a $7.5 million bond issue for road, sidewalk, drainage and parks and recreation parking lot improvements;
■ approved a resolution supporting a renewal of the city's 2-percent food and beverage tax through June 30, 2022; and
■ held the first public hearing on a proposed exemption for standalone smoke and vape shops from the city's no-smoking ordinance.
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