Parking concerns put church's plans in a tight spot

Matt Lockin

Matt Lockin

KINGMAN - When city planners delayed acting on a church's request to worship downtown Tuesday night, it wasn't the absence of faith that made them reluctant - it was (mostly) the absence of parking.

Nearly 30 people spoke for or against the plans of Central Christian Church to worship in the Central Commercial Building at 112 N. Fourth Street, where it intersects with Beale Street in the heart of Kingman's newly created Downtown Entertainment District.

The church, which has been using Lee Williams High School to hold services twice every Sunday for the past several years, is a satellite campus of a large church with the same name in Henderson, Nev. Carol Ott, owner of the Central Commercial Building, sought a conditional use permit that, if ultimately approved, would allow the church to hold services in a former furniture store in a part of the building that has been mostly vacant since 2012, according to Gary Jeppson, the city's Development Services director.

The occupancy would be about 235, with services held at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sundays. Jeppson said the church would be open on weekdays for Bible study, and a group called Celebrate Recovery has a program for recovering addicts that meets monthly.

Jeppson also said, however, that parking would not be an issue, as there is a waiver that allows motorists to park on the street up to 300 feet from their destination, and there were 23 off-street spaces available in the parking lot next to Redneck's Southern Pit BBQ, which is closed on Sundays.

Some Planning and Zoning Commission members, and those who oppose the permit, disagreed.

"This could pave the way for more calamity," said Janell Chambers. "The existing businesses are already under siege with too little parking and too many vagrants."

Chambers said she counted cars parked at Lee Williams High on a Sunday in October and they numbered 128 at the early service and 134 at the 11 a.m. service.

Later in the meeting, Nicholas Bodine, the church's assistant pastor, said Chambers counted more vehicles than there are adults who attend each service. He said they average 110 adults and 30 to 40 children. The number of congregants was a moving target during the meeting, and it was acknowledged by church leaders that they intend to grow. Still, the building in which they hope to operate could hold up to 500 worshippers, they said.

Chambers said downtown parking spaces begin to fill up with cars on Sunday mornings. She said she counted 28 spaces filled by 9:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday and 45 were filled by 11 a.m.

"I know the church seeks to do the Lord's will," she said. "They can do it in the appropriate place."

Beale Street Brews owner Angela Patterson said the Central Commercial Building is the historic cornerstone in Kingman history, both in terms of the city's commerce and its culture. The building also played a key role in the revitalization of downtown, which has experienced a significant uptick in new businesses geared toward an adult clientele.

"What is the church bringing to the table to generate tourism?" she said.

Patterson seemed to surprise many in the room when she announced Beale Street Brews was moving from its longtime location in the Central Commercial Building to 510 E. Beale Street. Her lease expires Nov. 30.

While the parking problem was a key point of opponents, plenty of other speakers said they have nothing against churches in general or Central Christian specifically, but they believe downtown is not the place for houses of worship.

Scott Dunton is one of them. Dunton's family has been in Kingman for nearly 90 years and he owns several downtown businesses, including Mr. D'z Route 66 Diner and Dunton Motors. President of the Route 66 Association of Kingman, Dunton addressed the efforts of local government and downtown merchants to bring downtown back to life, an effort that has taken years to accomplish.

"Everything we've done to try to revitalize downtown ... this is no place for a church."

He said there isn't a city in America that allows churches to open inside entertainment districts, a label the City Council ascribed to downtown at a recent meeting specifically in response to Central Christian's plan.

Bret Johnson has been pastor at Central Christian Church's Kingman campus for the past four months. He said the "350 to 400" people who attend services would be a boon to downtown merchants.

"One of the great things about a church is, they don't typically meet during business hours," he said. "It seems to me merchants would want a large number of people downtown to eat and drink. A church is one of the best things to have in a neighborhood. They elevate a neighborhood."

Matt Lockin, an attorney representing the church, said the lease with Ott - if commissioners approve the permit and the Council accepts the approval - would be for five years beginning in January. He said he "couldn't disagree more" that the church isn't appropriate for downtown.

"I think it's a good fit," he said. "And if it doesn't work out, we could revisit it."

Once public comment ended, the city's Planning and Zoning commissioners quickly let it be known they had no appetite for deliberations. Parking, for them, was the main issue. They encouraged the two sides to sit down and try to come to a resolution on the issue before voting 6-0 to table the item until the commission's Dec. 8 meeting.

Should commissioners ultimately approve or deny the request for a conditional use permit, the Council would have the final say.

After the meeting, Lockin said the church's long-term goal is to build a standalone church.

"This is a stop-gap until we find a better fit," he said. "We've looked at every building downtown more than once. This really is a function of a building being available when others weren't."

Dunton said a recent tour of Route 66 and the entertainment districts some of the towns have established yielded one fact: "There were no bars in the middle of churches and no churches in the middle of bars."