by Marion Marks
Mary Smith* wants to live her remaining days in her home of over fifty years, reflecting on her life and her husband who was killed in the line of duty as a Shreveport policeman. However, Mary’s small frame home has become a pivotal contentious confrontation with her former church, Broadmoor Baptist Church(BBC) because the church wants to greatly expand the size of their physical plant.
Church leaders worked hard to create a master plan that they must sincerely believe facilitates the church’s mission and improves the neighborhood. Unfortunately, Mary and her remaining neighbors love the neighborhood too and don’t want to leave it. Mary became a member of BBC before the age of ten, and felt a kinship to her church and church programs as she grew and raised her family in Broadmoor.
Now, the church has become an enemy, refusing to take “No” for an answer when they tried to bully Mary to sell her home. BBC has attempted on several occasions to close adjacent Atlantic Street to expand facilities and create contiguous access throughout the entire campus.
Twice, the city Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC), Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA), and City Council voted against these plans due to major safety considerations, increased flood risks, and objections of the neighbors. If Atlantic is closed, it will deny neighbors direct access to primary streets and make fire and ambulance service more difficult. If more green space is covered in concrete, there is less absorption of rainwater.
When BBC completed a previous building phase, part of the agreement with the city included a pond and a certain amount of green space to compensate for the extra concrete area. This has not been done. Assuming their master plan will be approved, the church purchased several homes, tore them down, and created vacant lots and extra parking. BBC apparently believed that the remaining neighbors would give in to inevitability and sell, but they underestimated Mary’s and others’ desire to stay in their homes. Then, Broadmoor Baptist Church started taking questionable actions. The church sent numerous members of the clergy and board to Mary and her neighbors to let them know that, one way or the other, the church will have their property. Among those lobbying for BBC is a church member who is also on the MPC. This is a direct conflict of interest and, in the past, has caused other MPC board members to resign. If this person is a valuable community member of the MPC, he must remain out of personal appeal process with those who have come before the board.
Even though the Zoning Board of Appeal ruled unanimously against the church’s request to for a variance, BBC continued construction.
Mary’s home is surrounded on three sides by vacant lots newly purchased and cleared by the church. To further impress their power on Mary, BBC parked a van on Mary’s property line right by her bedroom window. This, in spite of the fact that the church has more parking now than even its master plan requires. To try and appease the ZBA, while delivering another blow to Mary, the church said they would build a “privacy” fence around Mary’s house, thus further isolating her and blocking her view of everything but the street.
Now, after numerous rejections, the church is attacking the situation by going directly to the city council for a favorable ruling. They are doing this even though they have not completed obligations made in their last agreement with the city, yet they are fairly confident of the outcome. The intense focus of leaders of Broadmoor Baptist Church remains on what they believe to be “the greater good.” They have lost perspective; they need to step back and assess the consequences of their actions.
First, the church must live up to previous commitments such as creating better flood control along Youree Drive. Next, they should comply with all zoning regulations, existing city ordinances, and MPC guidelines. Finally, and most importantly, they should respect and honor the needs of Mary and their other neighbors. Broadmoor Baptist Church has inevitability, good intentions, an extensive master plan, lots of money, and influential members on its side. In their way is a widow, a few middle-class families, and the church’s previously unfulfilled obligations. I would never presume to say, but I can’t help but wonder, which side Jesus would favor?
*not her real name