How to get a church out of your way: eminent domain
If they had held out for a better deal, they risked having the property condemned under eminent domain and receiving even less than the negotiated $460,000 and two acres of land nearby.Old church needs rescue
The Daily Progress editorial, October 22, 2006, Charlottesville, Va.
We should be heartsick.
An historic African-American church lies under a death sentence, and the only possibility of reprieve would be for a benevolent benefactor to come along and save the structure.
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church has known for years that it would have to relocate. The church, founded in 1875 and built with help from former slaves, sits within a Federal Aviation Administration safety zone established to accommodate an expanding airport.
The airport authority has not offered enough money for the congregation either to move their current building or to build a new structure.
But if they had held out for a better deal, they risked having the property condemned under eminent domain and receiving even less than the negotiated $460,000 and two acres of land nearby.
In any case, although the congregation wants the building saved because of its sentimental value, they also want a new church. Upkeep on the old building is expensive, and it already suffers from a crack in the ceiling caused by vibrations from a plane that strayed too close.
Church members also realize that the location is unsafe, now that it lies in the flight path of aircraft.
Meanwhile, the church has endured another difficulty: It has been forbidden to expand at its present site.
When church members have asked for zoning permission to expand, they have been denied on the grounds that the congregation could not stay at the site. County officials also might have worried that any permitted improvements would have increased the value of the property and, thus, the settlement costs when time came for the airport authority to force the congregation to move.
But in the meantime, the congregation has dwindled significantly in number. Much of that is due to members dying or moving away. But the church’s inability to expand to offer new programs for the community also may have contributed to its membership decline.
Then there is the issue of the continued decline of the historic fabric of the black community.
“The question always is: ‘Why are African-Americans and their communities the ones that have to yield when progress is being pushed?’ ” said Scot French of Preservation Piedmont.
These communities are often the most vulnerable because they have the fewest resources with which to fight back.
Although there is no evidence here of any effort deliberately to target the vulnerable, the loss of the church nonetheless adds to the cumulative toll of vanished history and community cohesion.
Church members and preservationists still hope someone, or some group, will step forward with money to save the church by moving it. Airport authority officials say they are aware of one such possible rescuer.
We need to know more about that possibility. If the interest isn’t serious, or the proposed new owner can’t raise enough money, anyone else interested may find himself caught flatflooted, unable to move quickly enough to buy the church and get it moved.
The president of the NAACP says there should be more open discussion and debate about saving the structure. He’s right. Members of the larger Charlottesville-Albemarle community may have to pull together to preserve the historic structure.
But first, we have to talk to one another.