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ZAP unable to mediate inter-church zoning dispute

Friday, March 18, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Zoning and Platting Commission couldn’t agree on a rezoning for an apartment project with up to 300 units, in part because of a disagreement between two churches about a restrictive covenant.

After multiple failed motions on March 1, the commission let the case go on to City Council without a recommendation. 

The rezoning concerns a nearly 9-acre tract at 3101 W. William Cannon Drive owned by Jubilee Christian Center, a former church. In order to build apartments, Jubilee, represented by former pastor Jimmy Seal, seeks Multifamily-Moderate Density (MF-4) zoning on a property currently zoned Limited Office (LO). 

“There is a tremendous housing shortage,” Seal said. “We want to help remedy that.” Seal also said that profits from the development will go toward mission projects around the world.

The case, however, proved complicated. Impact Family Church, which took over Jubilee in 2019 and bought the portion of the property with the existing church building, believes it has the right to stop the rezoning. 

Molly Mitchell, counsel for Impact Family Church, argued that a restrictive covenant on both parties’ land gives Impact power over development of any portion of the land. “(The city has) got to look at all of these lots – the ones owned by Impact and the ones owned by the applicant – as a single site,” Mitchell said, adding that her client “absolutely is not on board with this zoning change.”

Seal argued that the legal document does not give Impact a veto on the development of the property; instead, it simply puts certain rules on development, such as requiring shared parking and access to the site. 

Several neighbors also spoke out against the rezoning. “You will have increased flooding and increased traffic, which will decrease the safety of our neighborhood and permanently alter the single-family neighborhood vibe that this area enjoys,” Jim Doggett said. 

Neighbor Joelynn Barclay deemed the site poorly suited for homes because of traffic noise and pollution from William Cannon Drive. “These folks will likely move out as soon as their first lease is up,” Barclay said. “This constant churn of people will destabilize our neighborhood.”

ZAP commissioners were wary of adjudicating on a disputed restrictive covenant. “Looking at the restrictive covenant, I don’t think we have any business in zoning this right now,” Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa said. “I don’t want to step into a mess not of our making.” Kiolbassa’s motion to deny the rezoning failed 5-3-1. 

Commissioner Hank Smith motioned to recommend Multifamily-Low Density (MF-2) zoning. “I do think multifamily is appropriate,” Smith said. “I don’t think MF-4, which is what they’re asking for, is appropriate.” That motion also failed 5-2-2. Two failed motions means the case goes to Council without ZAP’s recommendation. Council is scheduled to vote on the case April 21.

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