Historic church fighting to exist, suffering unneighborly treatment

Historic church fighting to exist, suffering unneighborly treatment

Historic church fighting to exist, suffering unneighborly treatment

A Texas church founded by freed slaves is asking the local city council to approve a zoning application that would permit the church to make improvements to its property – and avoid the need for a lawsuit.

"It's the neighbors that have been causing the problems," says attorney Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing White Rock Chapel in Addison, Texas. "This church was founded by some freed slaves in the 1800s and operated right along the banks of the White Rock River for a long time until it became a problem with all the flooding that occurred in that area."

A land owner donated some property on higher ground for the church to be able to build back in the 1880s and there it existed for a long time. "It ran into some more flooding problems, some severe weather – and in the 1960s it was burned down, we think probably by reason of arson," the attorney explains.

The chapel was designated an historic site by the Texas Historical Commission in 2000.

"More recently the church has had to come into compliance with some zoning issues, and the neighbors there just simply don't want this church to exist," says Dys. "So, they've been complaining about the existence of this church, they've been spreading some misinformation about what the church intends to do with the property."

According to a demand letter to city officials, the church is making "essential improvements" to the property.

Dys, Jeremy (First Liberty Institute) Dys

"Bottom line," Dys continues, "they have required the city council to vote on some zoning permits, and it came down to a singular vote [that] required a super-duper majority. I think it was six out of seven people had to vote in favor of the actual approval of the permit, and they could not cross that high bar."

This, after what Dys calls "months of meetings with the church and the neighborhood and the church conceding multiple things to the neighbors to try to allay their concerns."

"[The church] just simply could not meet up with all their demands," says Dys. "Every time they made a concession, there were other demands being made. So, they just simply can't exist right now – and we've told the City of Addison it needs to correct this or else they're going to find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit."

AFN received the following statement from the City of Addison:

"The Town of Addison has been a longtime supporter of the White Rock Chapel. We appreciate the Wessons' passion for its revival, which required a Special Use Permit as part of the zoning process. Since the owners of more than 20 percent of the land within 200 feet of a proposed zoning change filed a written protest with the Town, the request needed to be approved by a three-fourths vote of the Council. This is considered a supermajority vote that requires approval by six out of seven members. The Addison City Council was not able to reach the supermajority approval needed for the proposed zoning request to pass in its current form. However, Council did vote to waive the one-year waiting period for refiling which allows the Wessons the opportunity to bring forward a new request at any time. "

Attorney Dys hopes for resolution very quickly because the church cannot meet at all right now. "The longer they are held outside of their building, the longer it is that their rights are being deprived and the worse it becomes for the City of Addison," he adds.