Historic Clarkston homes to be demolished as part of $25K settlement

A DeKalb judge ruled the city of Clarkston must allow an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention to demolish this house at 3673 Hill Street, and another (not pictured here) at 961 Rowland Street, in order to build a multimillion-dollar complex and ministry center. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
A DeKalb judge ruled the city of Clarkston must allow an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention to demolish this house at 3673 Hill Street, and another (not pictured here) at 961 Rowland Street, in order to build a multimillion-dollar complex and ministry center. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Two old homes in Clarkston at the center of a monthslong lawsuit could come down as soon as next week.

The city gave up its fight with the North American Mission Board to stop the demolition of the homes, which are located on land where the church plans to build a multimillion-dollar complex and ministry center.

Clarkston also agreed Wednesday to pay $25,000 to Holland & Knight, the law firm representing the NAMB, which is an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, according to a copy of the settlement obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The NAMB plans to demolish  this house at 961 Rowland Street, and another (visible in the background through the trees) at 3673 Hill Street.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
The NAMB plans to demolish this house at 961 Rowland Street, and another (visible in the background through the trees) at 3673 Hill Street. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

A lawsuit filed in September accused the city of unlawfully halting the proposed development by not approving a demolition permit for two houses the church purchased near downtown Clarkston. Many residents and officials said they wanted the historic homes to be protected.

The NAMB owns the old Clarkston International Bible Church in the small DeKalb city located just outside the Perimeter. The Alpharetta-based ministry plans to build a massive new campus spread out across almost four blocks in Clarkston, complete with missionary housing, a training hub, a gym, a playground, a pavilion, parking lots and soccer fields.

In December, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie sided with the church, ordering the city to process the demolition permits for the two homes. The city appealed the ruling but ultimately settled.

The city "fought hard to try and preserve two historic homes and I am proud of the courage that the City Council showed in doing so, " Mayor Ted Terry said in a statement. "It will be a sad day when these buildings come down but we hope that this settlement can set the foundation for a cooperative relationship with NAMB moving forward."

In December, Terry said the city had spent $50,000 defending itself from the lawsuit, funds that “could’ve been spent on community projects, it could’ve been saved for the rainy day fund.”

Jake Evans, an attorney for the NAMB, said in a statement that the organization is “gratified” by the agreement with the city.

Construction continues on NAMB's multimillion-dollar complex and ministry center.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Construction continues on NAMB's multimillion-dollar complex and ministry center. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“The Clarkston development will be an asset to the community that NAMB envisions will have both recreational and educational facilities,” Evans said. “We look forward to a positive working relationship with the city.”

Both sides agreed they would not comment publicly beyond their written statements, according to the settlement.

The legal dispute traces back to April 26, when the church applied for demolition permits for the two old homes on Rowland Street and Hill Street. Days later, the City Council passed a six-month moratorium on demolition in the “Potential Historic District,” which included the prospective development. City staff subsequently denied the demolition request.

Barrie ruled the city acted retroactively, since the moratorium was passed after NAMB submitted its application.

In the Clarkston community, some residents, in earlier interviews, said they were worried the Baptist mission center might seek to convert residents of other faiths to Christianity. A city of just 12,800 people, Clarkston is known as the “most ethnically diverse square mile in America,” and more than half of its residents are foreign-born, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated.

According to its website, the NAMB does charity work and mobilizes Southern Baptists “as a missional force to impact North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism and church planting.” In the lawsuit, the church said it sought to build the new campus in Clarkston because of the city’s large refugee and low-income population.

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