Destruction request denied

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 7, 2004

The Selma Historic Development Commission voted unanimously at its Thursday meeting to deny a request from First Baptist Church to demolish the old YMCA building.

Commission member Bruce Burson made the motion to deny the request after hearing from attorney John W. Kelly III, who is representing the church. “I can empathize with the church, but our purpose is to protect the historic district,” Burson said. “Under our guidelines, an existing structure shall not be demolished for a parking lot or a vacant lot.”

Burson’s motion was quickly seconded and passed.

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“I’m not surprised,” Kelly said after the vote. “I understand the commission’s role. We’re in a better position now than others wanting to demolish a building because of the religious freedom amendment to Alabama’s constitution. The burden will be on the city now.”

According to Kelly, the amendment requires that Selma show compelling, governmental interest in preserving the building if the matter is appealed to the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court.

The decision to appeal lies with church members, though Kelly said he believed they would. The church has 45 days to appeal the decision.

Councilwoman Jean Martin said she approved of the commission’s vote. “I’m totally opposed to the building being torn down,” Martin said. “You can’t just keep tearing something down to put in parking lots.”

Kelly listed several reasons why the building, located near the corner of Broad Street and Dallas Avenue, should be demolished, including economic factors and the church’s need for parking.

According to Kelly, when the church purchased the building in 1996, it was infested with termites and in a decrepit state. The second and third floors were unstable, Kelly added. “It’s not impossible to restore it,” Kelly said. “It can be done, but the question is, does it make good economic sense?”

If the building were demolished and an existing parking lot extended, parking space would almost triple, Kelly said.

Elton Ralston, the chairman of the church committee responsible for the building, said that the time for the YMCA’s demolition had arrived. “It’s just the time and the season and the season is now,” Ralston said.

Kelly agreed. “The building was constructed long ago by the YMCA,” Kelly said. That institution is no longer viable downtown, but First Baptist church is viable. It was built in 1903. Unlike the YMCA, it’s a thriving part of the community.”