Council closes street, with stipulations

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2007

With people sitting in chairs, standing even out into the hallway and even sitting on the floor, the Luverne City Council heard from both sides of those who were for and those who were against the closing of East 2nd Street at the request of Luverne United Methodist Church Monday evening during a public hearing.

After much debate and discussion, the council approved a motion to close the street contingent upon whether or not LUMC itself decides to build an extra facility on its adjoining property. If the church body decides against building the new facility, the street will remain open.

Rev. Ken Jackson of LUMC was the spokesperson for those who were in favor of closing the street. He brought a large map/ diagram that showed the church's property at the present time and included the proposed facility that many in the church would like to see built in the near future.

&#8220After the Jan 29 fire, which caused us up to $150,000 in damages, we know what we want to rebuild,” Jackson said. &#8220Second Street prohibits us from expandingŠAs it is, we have one bathroom in the church right now that works, plus we're not even handicapped accessibleŠ..Because of needed ramp access, we will need to move in the direction of the street.”

Jackson added that since Highway 331 was a major artery for hurricane evacuees, the proposed new building could serve as an emergency shelter with a kitchen, showers, and an indoor recreation area.

&#8220Another need that we see is for recreation for our young people,” Jackson said. &#8220With the new facility, we'd like to have indoor volleyball, basketball and indoor soccer. The main point here is that this facility would be open to the whole community, not just to members of our church; therefore, it could be a wonderful asset to the entire community.”

Jackson admitted that he had heard if the road were to be closed, it could set a new precedent in the city.

&#8220But wasn't the downtown renovation project setting a precedent?” he asked.

City Council Member Charlie Johnson asked Jackson if the council closed the street and the church voted not to go forward with the new building plans, then what would happen to the road?

&#8220We could say that the road would be closed contingent upon the church body's approval of this plan,” Jackson said. &#8220If the church votes it down, then the street won't close.”

Pastor Donnie Burns of the First Baptist Church of Luverne was the spokesman for those who were against the closing of the street.

&#8220This is not a competition,” Burns said. &#8220Let's make that clear. Our church's concern is that we also own property on both ends of a road, but we plan to build a similar facility on the same lot.”

&#8220I have the same hopes and dreams, but I'm not going to close Glenwood Ave.,” he added. &#8220I do know that a large majority of our elderly use that road (East 2nd Street) to avoid Highway 29Š.In my experience, we've all had the same issues such as installing handicapped ramps and so forth, but we just don't think it would be advantageous to close the road.”

&#8220I'm just saying that the same building can be built on the lot they have.”

Joe Russell, a member of First Baptist Church, said that he did not know of any children who had been hurt crossing that street when going to the playground, something that proponents of the road's closing also brought up as a reason to close it.

&#8220As far as evacuees, we have other places for them to go,” Russell said.

David Smyth, Crenshaw County Administrator, said that there were storm shelters in the county's courthouse that now included a new kitchen.

Luverne Mayor Joe Rex Sport said he was not a &#8220street closer” and that he felt they were getting &#8220the cart before the horse” because LUMC had not even voted to build the new building yet.

&#8220Streets were developed for public use, and they belong to the citizens,” he added. &#8220I think we need to look at whether this would give the city more advantages or disadvantages if we close it.”

When asked for a motion, Council Member Johnson made a motion to table the street closing issue until City Attorney Mike Jones could investigate further into the legal differences between zonings and street closings. The motion failed for lack of a second.

Next, the motion was made to close the road, but only if LUMC votes to expand and build a new gymnasium/facility on the additional property. If the church votes against it, the street will remain open. The motion passed with council members Johnson, Dr. Pat Walker and Kip Smith voting for it to close, and Council Member Barbara Harrison voting against it.