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Church application pulled after council's urging
At the urging of city council, a local reverend withdrew his application to operate a church in a vacant Century City pool hall.
Pastor Charles Robinson of Empowerment Worship Center (EWC) has held services in the building for two years, but said that he learned 30 days ago that his church was in violation of city law.
EWC subleased the space from tenets that also operated a church, but they never mentioned the need for a permit, Robinson said.
Council President William Hills encouraged Robinson to withdraw the application after several council members said they would not grant the permit if brought to a vote.
"You weren't there under the conditions you were supposed to be," Hills said. "Why someone didn't see sooner? We could point fingers forever."
The council first considered the EWC proposal in June, but the church had not paid the application fee to the Board of Zoning and Building Appeals (BZA), Mayor Brad McCloud said.
The issue was held for several months while the city waited for the church to pay the fee.
To move the issue along, Councilman Mel Clemens issued an ultimatum that if the city did not hear from the church by the first September council meeting, the application would be dismissed.
At the Sept. 8 meeting, Robinson appeared to plea his case and to resolve the payment issues.
By this time, the church had evolved to offer after-school tutoring and substance abuse counseling.
Council members told Robinson they would not grant the exception until the church agreed in writing to certain conditions.
The first condition was that tutoring and drug counseling not occur together in the same building.
Robinson assured council that the counseling would relocate to a nearby restaurant.
The second condition required Robinson to submit a written plan for the tutoring that would include background checks and state licensing.
Lastly, the church would undergo inspections after three and six months.
On Sept. 28, Robinson submitted paperwork for the after-school program, but the council deemed it insufficient.
"I think this has tremendous potential for the people in the neighborhood and I hoped to celebrate your success," Councilwoman Leslie Kelly said. "But this is a flier you would provide volunteers. I hoped to see more of a design plan. The last thing we want to see happen is the programming to get started then fall apart."
Council also took issue with EWC for not removing a sign in the store window that listed the hours for Sunday service.
The city had ordered church services in the building to "cease-and-desist," Hills said.
"It kind of bothers me," Clemens said. "If it were me I would have taken the sign down, but the sign is still there after all this time."
Hills recommended that EWC start from the beginning and reapply for the special-use permit through BZA so that all issues would be resolved before the issue returned to council.
Hills said the fee from the first application could be applied to the second so that it would not cost the church additional money.
"Pull your application," Hills said. "It will not cost you any additional money and council will be more receptive. I hope to see you here in a short amount of time and everyone will be smiling."
Church Elder Marlene Butler pleaded with the council to reconsider because of the services the church provides to the 21st Century Apartment complex.
"It was New Jack City," Butler said. "We worked a lot with the community and a lot of families did a complete turnaround. You wouldn't have even wanted to walk there."
The church fed the homeless, provided clothes to individuals applying for jobs and encouraged kids to do well in schools, Butler said.
"I think we put a dent in the community. We can get a lot if signatures if we need that," Butler said.
Robinson does not intend to reapply and said he plans to remove his church from Reynoldsburg.
If the council wanted the church to apply anew, members should have said so months ago, Robinson said.
"I think the community is going to suffer," Robinson said.
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