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.
One of the possible designs for the new North American Mission Board campus in Clarkston. (Photo via NAMB/court filings)
Judge Tangela Barrie sided with the NAMB on Saturday, ordering the city to process the demolition permits for the two homes. The judge also declared that a moratorium on demolitions passed in April is unconstitutional.
On April 26, the church applied for demolition permits for the two old homes on Rowland Street and Hill Street, according to the lawsuit. Days later, the City Council passed a six-month moratorium on demolition in the “Potential Historic District,” which included the prospective development, subsequently denying the demolition request.
The city created a historic preservation commission earlier this year, and was in the process of appointing members to the group, the moratorium stated. Several blocks of downtown Clarkston were marked as places that could become a historic preservation district, and many residents and officials said they wanted the historic homes to be protected.
Barrie ruled the city acted retroactively, since the moratorium was passed after NAMB submitted its application.
“This is a big victory, both legally and practically for NAMB to continue its mission of making a positive difference in the community,” Jake Evans, an attorney representing the church, said in a statement. “The court rightly found that Clarkston unconstitutionally took NAMB’s rights.”
The NAMB hopes 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
Mayor Ted Terry could not comment directly on the lawsuit, since Clarkston recently elected two new members to the City Council, which plans to meet and discuss the NAMB issue in January. He said the city may appeal the ruling, which could take three to six more months to resolve. If Barrie’s decision stands, NAMB plans to seek damages and attorneys fees from the city.
Terry, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2020, said the church’s plans have divided the small city. Despite residents’ concerns about the church’s connections to the Southern Baptists, he said it is “not the role of governments to say whether it’s OK or not OK for one religion to practice their religion. We just can’t go down that line.”
He said the city has 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.”
Construction at the future NAMB complex has started on the north side of the lot, where building permits had been approved and no demolitions were required.
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