Ardmore, Oklahoma, is a small Oklahoma city of about 25,000. The way their planning commission acts, however, you’d think they were Manhattan.
So says a story from the Daily Ardmoreite, reporting on how the planning commission denied a church’s conditional use permit on Main Street 5-1-2 last Thursday. Why? Here are a bunch of bad reasons:
Community Development Director Jessica Scott said a major objection mentioned in the letters of protest concerned ABLE laws associated with churches. While existing businesses would not be affected, new businesses such as bars would not be able to open within 300 feet of the church. Potential new restaurants would not be affected as long as at least 35 percent of their sales come from food, and they maintain a full kitchen and menu.
Objections also included concerns about parking. The building does not have its own parking lot. Currently, the church has a congregation size of less than 50 and their only service is held on Sunday morning. During the meeting, some attendees voiced concerns that if the church grows, the parking situation could become a problem. Parking could also pose a problem if the church were to open for events during the week.
ABLE laws refer to the Oklahoma laws on alcoholic beverage-serving establishments. Notice how this city staffer says “new businesses such as bars would not be able to open within 300 feet…”
What she’s really worried about here is Ardmore’s downtown initiative. Like most American cities deluded by the prospect of growing their downtowns, Ardmore fantasizes that they can create a robust, vibrant downtown that people flock to. While the stuff of urban planners’ dreams, it’s highly unrealistic for the vast majority of cities.
If you’ve ever been to Ardmore, and I have a number of times, you’d know that while they have a nice little strip of downtown, it’s little different than what you’ll find in any Midwestern state. All of those towns think their downtowns are a growth hub too, by the way, even as they stagnate or shrink.
Which Ardmore unquestionably is. Its population has remained virtually unchanged for years, growing ever so slightly.
So Ardmore is trying to live their downtown dreams. As nice as that sounds, it doesn’t mean you can quash a church from opening because you’re thinking of some future bar that may or may not happen in your hopeful vision for main street. Of course, the church’s attorney pounced on this (emphasis mine):
Charles Roberts, attorney for First Christian Church, countered that downtown Ardmore already has several event centers that also take up parking space when they host functions.
“This is exactly what the federal law is about,” Roberts said. “You can’t discriminate against a church that’s going to have people coming in when you’ve allowed these other event centers to come into town.” He noted other churches located within a few blocks of the location.
“First Christian is just asking to be treated like other churches and in accordance with federal law,” Roberts said.
Good luck with this one, Ardmore.
The City of Ardmore probably monitors its mentions and social media – most cities its size and larger do. So I’m quite sure someone in the city will see this post before the city council votes on March 18.
With that said…
Dear Ardmore City Council: if you guys want to be a national story of religious discrimination, go ahead and block this church from opening its doors.