If Second Baptist Church on Yeates Street wants to resume building its long-awaited new sanctuary, its leaders may have to apply for a new building permit.
The splintered church — whose pastor, deacons and trustees are embroiled in a bitter civil suit playing out in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court — began the process of trying to build a new sanctuary on a lot adjacent to the existing facility in 2014. But today, all there is to show for their efforts is partially completed dirt work at the site and mounting legal fees.
To make matters worse, Starkville Community Development Director Buddy Sanders told The Dispatch the building permit for the project has expired.
Sanders notified Second Baptist of the expired permit in a letter dated Oct. 19. A city compliance inspection report, also dated Oct. 19, notes the project as an “old work site that has no valid work permit and needs erosion control plan put in place.”
Sanders said a building permit is good for one year. That can be extended, if construction continues, but Sanders said once construction ceases for at least 180 days, the city considers the site vacant. Second Baptist has not requested an extension, Sanders said, and the city hasn’t seen any activity on the site since 2015.
“In the city’s eyes, the construction project has been abandoned,” Sanders said.
The church’s building permit was approved on Oct. 6, 2014, and it paid a little more than $5,000 to obtain the permit on Aug. 5, 2015, according to city records.
Work ground to a halt shortly after it started in 2015. Since then, project contractor Donald Andrew Crowther has been indicted on false pretense charges. Also, church trustees have filed a lawsuit against Crowther, Pastor Joseph Stone Jr. and Head Deacon Terry Miller in an effort to recover more than $400,000 they claim was paid to the contractor without board of trustees authorization.
Renewing the project
With the permit expired, Sanders said the church has two options on how to proceed.
“They can remove the construction material and put down grass, hay, seed — something that would keep the soil in place,” Sanders said. “Or they can go back through the development review process.”
To continue with the construction project, Sanders said the church would have to get a site plan review, receive conditional use approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Aldermen — the church originally received a conditional use approval on Sept. 9, 2014, but that has since expired — and get another building permit.
“If work were to start, a stop work order would be issued until a permit was issued,” Sanders said.
The permit matter will be on the board of aldermen agenda for its Nov. 7 meeting, and Stone said he plans to request an extension.
“It’s no secret we are in litigation and that’s a hold up,” he said. “Even before I got here, Second Baptist has been a light in the community. I hope they take that under consideration until the litigation is over and at least give the church a chance to get itself back together.”
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said he might consider granting an extension if the church presents a credible plan to proceed.
“I will consider the totality of the facts in this circumstance, together with the evidence,” Perkins said. “I will apply the law to all of that and reach the proper outcome.”
Stone said he hopes to move ahead with the construction project. However, he said when that happens will depend on how long the litigation drags out.
“It’s based on the litigation,” he said. “I have no doubt that once that’s over, the church will regroup and we’ll look to get restarted on the project.”
Charles Ware, a spokesman for the board of trustees, said he wasn’t aware of the notification from the city. However, he said it is, at the moment, unclear when the church can restart the project. He added he doesn’t believe the church currently has the financial strength to move ahead with the new sanctuary.
“As soon as the lawsuit is settled, the church is going to have to rebound and get on solid financial ground before it can do anything,” Ware said. “With the leadership in the church right now, with that deacon board and Rev. Stone, I don’t think there is a lending institution within 100 miles that would touch Second Baptist.”
Stone said the church will have to lean on its faith once it finally sets its sights on moving ahead again.
“We are a faith-based institution for a reason,” Stone said. “For people of God, when things look their worst, that’s when we look to God the most. My belief is that if it’s God’s will for this church to be built, the finances will make a way.”
For Ware, a longtime member of the church, the new sanctuary project has been a “fiasco” and a “disgrace for proud Second Baptist.” He claimed church leadership has burned through nearly $1 million of the church’s money for the project, with little in the way of visible results.
“All we have to show for it is that parking lot on the hill and that pile of dirt with some rocks on it,” Ware said.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.