Nederland: Council weighs fate of former church

Published 10:07 am Friday, January 18, 2019

By Chris Moore


NEDERLAND — The Nederland City Council will soon decide on rezoning a former church property at 1420 Avenue L from an R-2 — duplex residential — zoning to C-1, office commercial. Some neighbors say they’re concerned.

A church was built on the property in 1962 and approved in the residentially zoned neighborhood. Since then, the city has amended its zoning ordinances to require a specific-use permit for a church in an R-2 residential zoning district.

Since 1962, the building has been used a church, and thus, after the ordinance change to the ordinance, the church retained its legal, nonconforming use status.

Property owner Anthony Rashall spoke to City Council this week in hopes of convincing them to vote to rezone.

In 2017, Rashall obtained the property in the middle of the residential area. There are no other commercial businesses within three blocks of the buildings.

Nederland City Manager Chris Duque and building official George Wheeler believe approving Rashall’s request would be spot zoning.

“As far as spot zoning, I’ve told the owner and the applicant that it meets the definition,” Wheeler said to the City Council. “I feel like, if the city were to approve it and it were to be challenged by some owners within 200 feet of the property — if it’s challenged and went to court, I believe we wouldn’t win.”

Spot zoning occurs by singling out a parcel of land for a use classification different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner and to the detriment of other owners.

“Once the church dissolves, it has to comply with the current zoning, which is either single family, two-family or church,” Wheeler said.

Nederland allowed both the applicant and a representative for the homeowners in the neighborhood to speak at their Monday meeting.

“This is building that was built 50 years ago as a commercial building,” Rashall said. “This wasn’t a house that was turned into a church. This is a commercial building with concrete parking paces and offices. There is not shower or bathroom. It was never meant to be somewhere to live.”

Rashall said the building would not have high foot traffic if he is allowed to sell it as a commercial building.

“It’s going to be office space for something like an insurance agency, a financial institution or something that is all phone-call related,” he said. “People who want a retail building want a place near a main road.”

Karl Leone spoke on behalf of a half-dozen residents who attended.

“I live less than 200 feet from building,” he said. “When I was about 7 years old, it was a Jehovah’s Witness church up until around 2012. Since then, it has been a couple of churches.”

Leone said he and his neighbors have never had a problem with the churches.

“We’re all Christian people,” he said. “The only problem we have is it being zoned ‘commercial.’ It could come in as a commercial business right now and not hurt our neighborhood one bit. What we’re looking at and what we are afraid of is what it could turn into.”

Leone said residents do not want the building to become a doctor’s office.

“The last thing we want is a doctor, dentist or some clinic or pain management — or anything like that,” he said. “We know what that brings to our neighborhood and our community. If its not going to be a church, I believe I can speak on all of their behalf that we are probably going to stand against it.

“We don’t think a bunch of religious people are going to do anything wrong in our neighborhood or bring any bad people in,” he said. “The most thing (Jehovah’s Witness) did was go around and get people to join. I can’t blame them for that. There have been all different religions there. One of them, I think, was Muslim. I’m just afraid of the commercial building.”

The City Council will vote at the Jan. 28 meeting.