Chairman Stripping’s participation in the vote, even though his own mother was involved in the lawsuit against the city, gym and church over the same matter, was significant. If he had abstained because of a conflict of interest, the Commission would not be able to make a recommendation. That he voted and won the rejection to overturn the rejection of the commission is more difficult for the city council.
At the meeting of the planning commission in 2019, the commission got stuck 2: 2 and, according to the commission’s statutes, could not forward a recommendation to the city council. This is an important distinction. Without a recommendation, the city council’s decision was passed with a simple majority – and in 2019 the council voted 6: 1 for LBC. In 2021, however, as the Planning Commission ruled against LBC, a majority of the council members or a 6-2 vote will be required to overturn the commission’s recommendation.
Councilor Harry Thomas voted against the church in 2019. He stays on the council. That is, if Thomas votes against the church again and only two other council members vote against the church, LBC will lose.
Only one seat on the Council has changed since 2019. Emerging politician Larry Miller replaced Councilor Billie DeWitt in May. Miller was introduced to San Angelo by Winkie Wardlaw, who led his campaign in every way. For example, Wardlaw showed up in our offices to cheer Miller on.
Will Miller vote against the man behind his campaign?
The interesting thing is that Wardlaw was so involved in Miller’s campaign that you would think Wardlaw was a donor. We scoured the campaign funding reports and there are no donations listed in Wardlaw’s name. Is Miller so meek that he will vote against LBC to satisfy the wishes of his key cheerleaders when Wardlaw was too cheap to make even a small token campaign donation?
The actions of opponents of the LBC exception spring from the miasms of nepotism and the Good ‘Ol Boy network. In addition to Wardlaw’s obsessed with the council and Wardlaw demanding $ 100,000 from a church in dire straits, there is the son of one of Wardlaw’s co-plaintiffs who leads the case against LBC as chairman of the planning committee. Will the city council see through this farce?
- There are 55 special use permits for companies that operate within the Santa Rita residential area. If the city re-examines the LBC permit, shouldn’t the council re-examine them all?
- One of the 55 exceptions applies to the RiverView Restaurant which also serves as a venue or meeting point for many events on a weekly basis. For example, the San Angelo Rotary Club meets there every Friday. The River Terrace, on which the restaurant is located, does not have enough parking space for most of the events taking place there. Isn’t that a traffic jam? Why not a protest?
- The LBC special use permit is specific. The only types of business the permit allows are “multi-purpose indoor recreational facility and related recreational activities, daycare, community work, community services, and educational programs”. The permit does not allow the church to rent the gym to a fast food or retail outlet.
- A compromise is forged This gives the LBC the exception for special use, however it is written so that the exception cannot be transferred with the property. Some argue that imposing such restrictions on the exception of one church while allowing the same types of exceptions for 54 others, albeit secular real estate, is discriminatory.
- The city received 1,070 letters in favor of LBC from across town, including one each from LBC and Texas Tumbleweeds. There was 34 letters in opposition, all from property owners within 60 meters of the gym.
- Of those who advocated LBC, two were from landowners within sixty yards of the church; 34 were against it. Of those who opposed the Church, 15 were from River Terrace River condominium residents and 19 were from other owners of land within 60 meters.
- Churches in the United States enjoy additional protection according to federal law and the First Amendment. The operation of a trading company on church property is protected. There are also protective provisions for churches that are anchored in state law.
- Great concern has been expressed about the Church’s tax exemption and how it is construed as an unfair competitive advantage. However, late last year, Shannon Health took approximately $ 25 million off property tax rolls on its purchase of the San Angelo Community Medical Center. None of those who complained about the church’s $ 200,000 gym, which had never been in the tax role, protested a word against the SACMC takeover. In fact, state law also protects Shannon as a hospital monopoly.
- The Memorandum of Understanding between LBC and Texas Tumbleweeds Gymnastics declares its purpose is “to keep the pursuit of the glory of Christ in all things a first priority.” Physical education is faith based and the church is an integral part.
- Churches are tax-exempt to ensure freedom from the state. The old saying goes: the power to tax is the power to destroy. The tax exemption status for churches is also a community effort. The hope is that the church will bring more value to its community than the income that a waived property tax would otherwise generate. Churches provide a moral foundation for communities that in practice reduce crime. For example, over 50 percent of San Angelo police calls are for domestic disputes. Churches strengthen families. In a 2014 interview with then Tom Green County Sheriff David Jones following a homicide that arose out of a domestic quarrel, he said domestic violence needs to be addressed through more than just law enforcement. In fact, all violence can be countered in other ways than just paying for more law enforcement.
- Five days after that the planning commission denied the church permission to use its gym to teach faith-based gymnastics classes to children, and shots were fired at an adult softball game across town. Two children were injured.
- What kind of message will the leaders of the city of San Angelo deliver? To deny a church the right to use its gym to teach faith gymnastics in this day and age?
Travis Stribbling was appointed to the planning committee by former SMD-5 city councilor Liz Grindstaff. Current SMD-5 Councilor Lane Carter has extended his appointment.