City OKs church’s expansion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Tom Middleton was looking for a few prayers Tuesday night before the Natchez Board of Alderman meeting.

Not only did the chairman of Jefferson Street Methodist Church’s building committee evoke a few prayers, but those prayers were answered with a unanimous vote, clearing the way for the church’s new family life center and gymnasium.

&uot;I asked the preacher to offer one up for me before I talked,&uot; Middleton said after the Natchez Board of Aldermen overturned a decision of the Natchez Zoning Board of Adjustments. &uot;It’s been a long, hard fight.&uot;

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&uot;He did a fine job,&uot; said the Rev. James Earl &uot;Pete&uot; Herndon. &uot;We’ve done a lot of work on this, so we couldn’t stop now.&uot;

For Middleton and the more than 600 members of Jefferson Street, the decision was long in coming.

&uot;I’m elated,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;I think reason has prevailed tonight.

The issue at hand was a variance request made by the church.

Specifically the church wanted to encroach more than 4 feet into the required 10-foot setback.

The 10-foot buffer was required because the church is zoned as B-2, or as a commercial property, and the proposed structure is adjacent to several residential, or R-2 zoned, properties.

On July 5, the Zoning Board of Adjustments voted 2-1 to approve the request, but because votes require at least three votes, the request failed.

Church officials appealed the decision to the Board of Alderman.

Aldermen unanimously approved the decision, with the exception of Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux, who was not present, and Alderman Jake Middleton, who did not vote on the decision since he is a member of Jefferson Street.

Although City Planner David Preziosi reported several residents were opposed to the variance, only one resident spoke up at the meeting.

&uot;I guess I’m the only brave soul here,&uot; said Sarah McGehee who lives at 303 N. Pearl St. Her residence in near the church, but not directly affected by the construction.

&uot;I don’t want to see the building not go up,&uot; she said. &uot;I think it’s needed. I think the Methodist have a wonderful program for their youth. None of us want to see it stopped, but what I would like to see is it brought under control.

&uot;I was told not to come forward and talk about this,&uot; McGehee said. &uot;They told me I was just fighting God.

&uot;I’m not ready to fight God, I want him on my side too,&uot; McGehee said laughing. &uot;I don’t happen to live in that block, but if I did, you’d better believe you’d have a dog fight on your hands.&uot;

With the variance approved Tuesday, the building will be built within 3 feet, 9 inches of the property line.

&uot;We feel like this is enough distance in between the buildings for general maintenance,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;We want to be a strong presence on corner of Jefferson and Union for another 125 years.&uot;

He said construction would likely begin in a few months once the funding was in order and the church district approves the plan.