Church halts park, parking efforts

Church halts park, parking effortsPlans to build a parking lot and expand a playground at the First United Methodist Church-Georgetown, located at University Avenue and Ash Street in Old Town, have been tabled, Senior Pastor Steve Lankford said.

The church had included the plans for the off-street parking and expanded park area in its master plan that had been in the works for two years, he said. However, a 2002 verbal agreement between former Senior Pastor Tim Bruster and neighbors has caused the church to “go back to the square one with the master plan,” he said.

Part of the church’s plans had included asking the city to close a portion of 13th Street between Ash and Elm streets as well as demolishing one house south of 13th Street to make room for the expansion.

“We have put our negotiations with the city on hold,” Lankford said. “The desire is still there [to close off the street]; however, the process is on hold.”

Lankford said the church had hoped to build up to 50-60 additional off-street parking spaces to add accessible parking for people with special needs, seniors and young families and relieve congestion in the neighborhood as well as add an expanded and upgraded playground and park that would be open to neighbors.

“The parking around here on any given day … creates congestion and creates a danger,” Lankford said.

Neighbors against the plan cited the 2002 agreement, which they said stated the church would not expand south of 13th Street.

Lankford said without any written documentation it was difficult to determine the exact terms of the agreement.

“Because it was a verbal agreement and not put into writing, there was some disagreement of what the agreement was,” he said.

After a contentious March 10 public meeting, Lankford said he asked his staff to continue searching for anything in writing that could clarify the agreement, which they eventually found in a committee’s meeting minutes.

“One of those [items in the minutes] was that we would not remove houses south of 13th Street. That was the first time I had seen that detail. I had been operating under the understanding that we would not be building buildings south of 13th Street,” he said. “When we discovered that detail, I immediately met with key leaders in the church and shared with them what we discovered … in light of that document, we would now honor their interpretation of the agreement; however, that does not mean this church in the future with a different pastor will honor that because I cannot [promise] that.”

Lankford said the church and the master plan committee will continue to meet to find a way to meet the church’s needs while being conscientious of the neighbors’ concerns.