The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Ernest Easley, extended an olive branch to the City Council during its Wednesday meeting, and said his congregation has agreed to allow the city to take church property needed for the project in exchange for $115,000.
Easley said he was asked by City Attorney Doug Haynie for a response to the pending settlement from the church’s 2,300 active members.
On Sunday evening, 200 members attended a business meeting at the church to get details about the years of negotiations and unanimously affirm their approval of a three-page settlement agreement.
“For the first time ever, really, we walked through the last nine and a half years of dialogue with the city,” Easley said.
The contention between the parties started when the city announced plans to use part of the 70-year-old church’s property to widen Roswell Street.
Fears of condemnation caused an uprising by the church’s congregation at a City Council meeting in November 2012, which resulted in the council unanimously voting in favor of mediation.
Easley said communication has been critical to calming the rough waters of the legal dispute.
“If the talking breaks down, then the whole process breaks down,” he said.
Terms of agreement
Although Mayor Steve Tumlin said in July he believed the dispute would soon be resolved, Haynie said officials still could not comment on ongoing talks.
The talks have involved a mediation committee of four appointed members from the City Council, consisting of Philip Goldstein, Jim King, Anthony Coleman and Tumlin. Easley said the agreement from the nine months of mediation stipulates the city would encroach on a limited amount of land south of Roswell Street near the church campus, but expand more to the north near two commercial buildings owned by Roswell Street Baptist Church, Easley said.
Easley said the biggest challenge for the church will be a stipulation to have only a right-turn entrance and a right-turn exit from the parking lot onto Roswell Street.
“If that is the biggest adjustment we have to make, then we should be pleased with the outcome,” Easley said.
Tumlin and the seven City Council members remained silent as Easley told them his church had accepted the city’s offer. Any settlement would require a vote by the full council.
Stretches of road improvements
The city’s $24 million project to widen Roswell Street to four lanes from the Marietta Square to the Big Chicken is expected to be finished this November with the exception of the segment in front of Roswell Street Baptist Church, from Victory Drive to Dodd Street.
Previous plans included an 18-foot wide landscaped median, 8-foot-wide sidewalks, trees and pedestrian level street lights.
But Easley said city staff seems open to changing the original plans, perhaps narrowing the median, so as not to infringe on such a large portion of land in front of the worship center.
Easley said he has supported the “beautification project” moving forward, but the city has constantly changed the design plans, which caused numerous rounds of appraisals of the property at the church’s expense.
Roswell Street Baptist Church has also held off on any development on its property, Easley said, to see how the expansion of the road will look and how it will adjust the traffic flow.
The church has been told that future construction on its property could require a costly retention pond, but Easley said if the city wants to “muddy the waters and bring in zoning issues” it will be a separate issue to deal with later.
Easley said the church has an established relationship with the city and has hosted community events for over 30 years.
“I think it is always important to strive to be a good neighbor,” Easley said. “That is a piece you can’t put a dollar amount on.”