By Gary Lloyd
TRUSSVILLE — This isn’t a typical rezoning case.
It involves more than just land. It involves a car dealership some seem to be skeptical about. It involves the sale of a building, and a lot of people who are counting on that sale to go through so they have a place to go to church.
At the March 24 Trussville City Council meeting, a public hearing was held in regard to the possible rezoning of 1751 Gadsden Highway — the former Eastminster Presbyterian Church property — from institutional to commercial (C-2 zoning). The ordinance was delivered as a first reading and will be voted on at the Tuesday, April 14 meeting at 6 p.m. at Trussville City Hall.
The Eastminster congregation merged two years ago with Grace Presbyterian Church to form Cahaba Springs Presbyterian Church, which is located on Deerfoot Parkway in Trussville. The 5.5-acre Eastminster property was under contract to Serra Automotive in February for ,951,000. The Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley approved the deal in February. In the Presbyterian denomination, the Presbytery must approve the sale of property, said Dixie Robinson, an elder at Cahaba Springs Presbyterian Church.
The plan could be for a Serra Kia car dealership, according to www.LDILine.com.
Eric Helmers, a member of Cahaba Springs Presbyterian Church, is seeking to facilitate the sale of the Eastminster property on behalf of the church. He said the contract is contingent on the property being zoned commercial. He said most areas surrounding the property, except for Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home and Gardens, are zoned commercial.
Councilman Anthony Montalto said the city’s Planning and Zoning Board didn’t recommend to rezone or not due to a motion dying for lack of a second. Montalto seemed to be against the idea of the car dealership opening in this location. He said people move to Trussville for schools, parks, nice subdivisions and great churches.
“They didn’t move here because they wanted Trussville to become like Highway 75 from Roebuck to Center Point, just full of car lots side by side for about a four-mile length there,” Montalto said.
Montalto referenced the Serra Nissan fraud conspiracy, in which eight former employees allegedly fraudulently boosted loan approvals and car sales. He said he doesn’t know how many dealerships Serra Automotive has, but “it’s hard for me to believe that out of all of them, only one dealership was having problems.”
“That’s something that concerns me, bringing that same dealership into our city,” Montalto said.
Helmers said all areas surrounding the church property are zoned commercial except for the cemetery. He said he wants the property to “conform” with the surrounding areas.
“I’m concerned that if this council votes against the requested zoning change, that that act in and of itself might violate our due process as a church and a property owner,” he said.
Helmers said the council’s vote shouldn’t be “arbitrary or capricious.”
“I’m just asking that Cahaba Springs be treated fairly,” he said.
Councilman Buddy Choat said he has concerns with a car dealership’s proximity to the cemetery. Council President Alan Taylor said the council is charged with doing what’s best for the city.
Members of Cahaba Springs Presbyterian Church attended the March 24 meeting, and most spoke in favor of the rezoning. If the rezoning is approved and the sale is finalized, the church will stand to gain much-needed revenue.
Arnold Reichert, a member of the church, said Cahaba Springs is made up of “two struggling congregations that have come together.” He said the church needs financial help “so we can exist.” He said he wishes Eastminster could remain so its gym and meeting space could be used, but the church doesn’t have the money to keep it up.
“We don’t have any option,” he said.
He predicted the two church buildings will be in foreclosure by this summer if the sale doesn’t go through.
“This is very important to a lot of people,” said Laura Reichert, also a Cahaba Springs Presbyterian Church member.
Another woman who attended the meeting spoke in favor of the rezoning because the church owes a lot of money to the bank, she said. If the deal doesn’t happen, the congregation could be without a church, she said.
“We’re trusting that God will show us a way to get through this,” she said.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.