Lexington church expansion troubles neighbors

09/15/2013 6:46 PM

09/15/2013 6:47 PM

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC Nearly a dozen homeowners are seeking a historic designation in their area to deter a major Lexington congregation’s expansion into their neighborhood.

Town leaders are considering the request for 11 homes scattered on three streets around Lexington Baptist Church downtown.

Supporters say the step would make it harder for the church to acquire the homes and raze them for parking as it has done for about 20 residences around it.

“It gives us another avenue to protect ourselves,” said Cathy Miller, a leader of the effort.

The Town Historic Preservation Review Board signed off on the designation idea, also urging adoption of separate protection standards for five more homes – all less than 50 years old – that do not qualify as historic.

“I don’t know how much it would help, but it’s giving them another layer of protection to keep them from being swallowed up,” board chairman Chuck Corley said. “They want to keep their neighborhood intact.”

The board’s recommendation goes to town planners and then the seven Town Council members for acceptance.

Church officials say they’re trying to deal with growth without upsetting those living nearby.

“We have the utmost concern about being good neighbors,” church moderator Tommy Cofield said. “We are a growing church and, as you can imagine, that creates situations when relations with our neighbors are put to the test.”

Not all homeowners on Creps, East Butler and Efird streets want the historic designation.

Some told the board that the requirements are too restrictive for renovations while others fear it could make their homes harder to sell, records show.

So the board is recommending the designation be applied only to homes whose owners want it, meaning it would be spread piecemeal in the neighborhood.

Church leaders so far aren’t opposing the plan for the 11 homes affected.

Applying the historic designation is an unusual request to town leaders.

The homeowners’ interest in it stems from “tension with a church preparing for the future, when and if the opportunity presents itself,” Mayor Randy Halfacre said.

Some in the neighborhood feel the church is seeking to push them out even though town development standards can keep the area residential, he said.

Conversations with church leaders aren’t calming the concern of some residents about coexistence, he said.

“They’re having a difficult time coming to a meeting of the minds,” Halfacre said.

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