The church that demolished a Gervais Street storefront soon after city officials placed a historic marker out front goes to the city planning commission Monday to discuss its redevelopment plans.
First Nazareth Baptist Church is asking the Columbia Planning Commission for the most permissive commercial zoning designation to build a community center. City staffers have recommended a “less intense” designation offering more protection to the Waverly neighborhood, a historic district.
The church building and parking apparently would take up much of a city block now zoned for residential use at the edge of Waverly.
Church trustee Willie Williams said Wednesday he was not authorized to discuss details of the project. Efforts to reach the pastor, the Rev. Blakely Scott, have been unsuccessful.
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A quick review of property-tax records shows First Nazareth owns two-dozen parcels of land near the church, an imposing structure at Millwood Avenue and Gervais Street. Some have homes on them.
Longtime neighborhood leader Doris Hildebrand, meanwhile, said the church’s decision to tear down George Elmore’s store last week has made a mess of things.
“They don’t communicate with anybody,” Hildebrand said. “Not that we’re supposed to know every move they make, but we don’t know what’s going on.”
She said the church would have benefitted by preserving George Elmore’s store as part of the story of Waverly.
In the 1940s, Elmore was a key figure in the fight to secure voting rights for black South Carolinians. Ultimately, his family and business were destroyed by his involvement in the struggle for civil rights.
“We’re not going down,” Hildebrand said. “We’re going to be trying to save this community and our history.”
First Nazareth itself has occupied a place in the city’s history since shortly after the Civil War, when ex-slaves and free blacks gathered for worship in a house on Bull Street in 1877, according to church history. The current 2,700-seat sanctuary was dedicated in January 2006.
If the church wants to tear down any of the houses it owns, it must get the permission of the city’s Design Development Review Commission.
But the commercial structures around Waverly that contribute to the historic neighborhood are not protected from demolition, city preservation official Amy Moore said. Instead, the city requires owners to bring new development plans — for buildings, fences and walls — to the DDRC for review.
That means the exterior of the church community center will have to be approved by the citizen commission.
The church came before the city’s planning commission last month for land-use zoning but action was delayed until church and community leaders could get together to discuss the redevelopment plans, said Krista Hampton, the city’s planning and development services director. That meeting will be held this afternoon.
Local preservationists now view the demolition of Elmore’s store as a call to action.
Though the modest storefront was vacant and in poor condition, they say it should have been saved as part of the story of civil rights in Columbia and South Carolina.
“It’s not just about buildings that have gorgeous facades,” said Beryl Dakers, a board member of the Historic Columbia Foundation. “It’s about the preservation of our cultural heritage.”