The New Hope Baptist Church won initial approval and effusive praise from city planners on Tuesday for their proposal to build a new 18,000-square-foot community center along Felicity Street in Central City.
The new two-story building will be situated across the Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way from the church building, and it will extend across several lots along Felicity Street, according to city planning documents. The project also includes a parking lot across Felicity from the church.
“The community center will cater to the needs of not only its church members, but all surrounding residents in the area with potential services such as health screenings, adult learning programs, daycare, exercise equipment, food distribution and more,” according to the architects, Garrity & Accardo. “The goal of this project is to bring together all ages of the community into one place, where youth can learn and pass time safely, and adults can learn and teach and get whatever help they may need.”
The project drew opposition from a nearby resident, Michael Burnside of Felicity Street, who criticized the church for tearing down a home on the site rather than moving it. He said he had a petition of 25 other residents opposing it as well.
“We already have a large amount of service in our neighborhood, and we have not been asked what we want. We’ve been told what we should accept,” Burnside said. “We want affordable housing that is one bedroom for seniors, and we want free healthcare for our young children.”
The city planning staff, however, had recommended in favor of the project, saying it fits other large institutional uses nearby, would not disrupt residential life nearby, and will provide valuable services. Likewise, members of the City Planning Commission showered the church with praise for their efforts during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 10, before voting in favor of it.
“This is a great project, in my opinion, for an area in need of the services that are going to be provided,” said Commissioner Eugene Green.
The commission also praised the church members who attended several City Planning Commission meetings in support of the project prior to Tuesday’s vote.
“It doesn’t come lightly that we take actions to pull properties off the tax rolls and put them in not-for-profit status, so I think it has to be an extraordinary project,” said Commissioner Kyle Wedberg. “I think this meets the standards in terms not only of future investment in the community, but also current investment in the work that has been done by this congregation.”
The commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of the project. The commission’s recommendation for the community center will now be forwarded to the City Council for final approval.