House of Prayer Holiness seeks to build Franklin church

Published 1:26 pm Saturday, June 20, 2015

The House of Prayer Holiness Church for All People Inc. has entered into a purchase agreement for a parcel of land across the street in the area of the Armory Park swimming pool and adjacent to the old 7-Eleven site, with the intent to build a new church.

The property has created a couple of headaches for Board President Charlie S. Ricks Sr.

Donald E. Goodwin, director of the Franklin-Southampton Department of Community Development, said that the site was zoned B-1 for retail uses. The current zoning requirements limit the property’s access to Armory Drive in the form of sharing the existing entrance to the old 7-Eleven property through an ingress/egress access easement with the owner of said land.

Proposed property access from Pace Court

Proposed property access from Pace Court

Goodwin said this is due to the conflict in the VDOT Access Management Regulations and the approximate location of an additional entrance to the current entrance to the old 7-Eleven and the Armory Field in the curve along that stretch of Armory Drive.

Ricks was seeking an alternative: placing the driveway access where Second Avenue and Pace Court meet. As a church that meets three days a week, he said that the traffic impact would be minimal to the residential streets.

Goodwin said normally a change of that magnitude would be similar to going through the rezoning process, which requires an application, public notice advertisements and a public hearing for both the Franklin Planning Commission and the Franklin City Council. There is fine print to that requirement, though: as an amendment that does not affect the conditions of use or density, a local governing body has the option to waive the public hearing requirement. Ricks, seeking to avoid the hundreds of dollars in expense two public hearings would require, was requesting that waiver on the grounds that a church, which can build on properties zoned B-1, would impact neither use nor density.

City Manager Randy Martin said the public hearing expense would be on the ministry, not the city.

Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn, having spoken previously with church leadership, proposed an alternative of sending out letters informing and requesting reaction from residents of the Pace Court neighborhood.

City Attorney Taylor Williams said that could be done, but from a legal perspective a public hearing guarantees anyone an opportunity to speak on the matter. While people in the neighborhood could request to speak during citizens’ time, there’s a five minute limit.

Ward 6 Councilman Frank Rabil said the street is very narrow, and he said that some may not be happy to have through traffic in the neighborhood.

“I fear we won’t get much of a response if we send a letter,” he said. “In deference to the people who own property in this area, I would suggest having a public hearing.”

Ward 3 Councilman Greg McLemore said he agreed with Rabil.

“Transparency is one thing we should do for our citizens,” he added.

As a result, McLemore motioned to direct the Department of Community Development to recommend a public hearing should the applicant wish to pursue the Pace Court access.

The vote passed 4-3, with Mona Murphy, Mary Hilliard and Johnson-Ashburn voting nay.

“Had I known my colleagues had a reason after speaking to [the church leadership], I might have had a different reaction,” McLemore said.

The mayor replied, “There was no reason. I just felt sending certification letters would suffice. There was no underlying agenda.”

The numbers listed for the church and Ricks had been disconnected. The ministry is currently located in the Camptown area of Isle of Wight County.