The city of Oak Ridge North could exercise eminent domain to acquire land for a planned expansion of Robinson Road, but leaders of a church along the route have asked for further discussion because a pastor said he had been told it would not be subject to that kind of acquisition.

Jess Larson, pastor of Sojourn Baptist Church located on Robinson Road, spoke at the April 26 meeting with concerns about an agenda item for a resolution on eminent domain.

Larson said he had previously been told eminent domain would not be used in the city's ongoing project to widen Robinson Road.

Lawson said the church also experienced frustration because it must obtain a short-term special-use permit on a regular basis as it is located on land now part of the city's Plaza District, which does not include the educational use requested by the church. A special-use permit for the educational use was removed when the church's school closed several years ago, he said.

“When the city began the process of rezoning our property several years ago in such a way as to exclude uses for our buildings for which they were built, we were concerned," Lawson said. "Our church was definitely not pictured in the long-term vision for the city."

Lawson said the church has asked that it be reimbursed certain expenses that it would incur as well as restoring its special-use permit in exchange for the use of the land requested by the city. Lawson said that request was rejected.

In response, Mayor Paul Bond said he felt the land request from the church was not significant, but the city is open to discussion with the church. According to meeting materials, a 0.0372-acre portion of 27420 Robinson Road, where the church is located, is listed as one of the parcels for eminent domain.

“Our ask of the church at this point doesn’t involve that much land,” he said.

Bond said the road needs to be widened, and its long-term needs include the realignment of that road and development of the planned Plaza District in that region.

“If it doesn’t, I’m afraid the city won’t be here,” Bond said. “It won’t be able to sustain itself; that’s really what this is all about. ... This is for sustainability.”

Improving Robinson has been cited by city and county officials and regional planners with the Houston-Galveston Area Council as one of the south county area’s primary mobility needs.

The wording of the ordinance unanimously approved by the council after an executive session includes the ability for the city to reach a voluntary agreement with landowners at any time during the condemnation process.

"We would warmly welcome a joint discussion," Lawson said during public comment. "We'd like to find a win-win."

A recording of the meeting is available on the city website under its meeting minutes.