GAFFNEY, SC (WSPA) – Gaffney city council approved the first reading of an ordinance to delete a provision that blocked two churches from occupying downtown spaces.
“We’re not used to young people losing their lives as early as they are. It’s up to us to go into our communities and present them with the gospel from the Lord Jesus that would give them hope” said Innov8tion Church pastor Rickie Sarratt.
A word of prayer started Gaffney’s city council meeting Monday in front of a packed room.
Council was expected to decide the fate of two churches – Mission of Grace and Innov8tion Church.
Both want to be located in the city’s commercial zoning district downtown but the city’s zoning ordinance prevented that.
The American Center for Law and Justice said that was illegal and discriminatory and threatened to sue the city after the planning commission upheld the provision last month.
After nearly an hour in executive session council returned with an ordinance to remove the provision that blocked the churches from opening their downtown locations.
City Administrator James Taylor read the following from Monday’s ordinance:
“Whereas Pastor Rickie Sarratt and Pastor Michael Freyta of Mission of Grace submit a request to the Gaffney Planning commission to amend the zoning ordinance to remove a restriction on religious organizations occupying previous commercial or storefront buildings in the Core Commercial district as set forth in Section 2.3 Table 1 Footnote b which provides religious organizations shall not be permitted in previously occupied commercial or storefront buildings. And whereas, after due notice and advertisement, the Gaffney Planning Commission conducted a public hearing on the request on January 8th of 2019. And whereas, after hearing from Pastor Sarratt and Freyta, and other members of the public, the Planning Commission by majority vote recommended that Gaffney City Council would deny the aforesaid request. And whereas, the aforesaid matter was heard and considered by the Gaffney City Council at its regularly scheduled meeting on February 11th, 2019. Whereas, in order to preserve, promote, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community, and to ensure harmonious development of the city in accordance with the comprehensive plan, and all applicable laws, now therefore, be it ordained in council duly assembled, that the section of the Gaffney zoning ordinance, is hereby amended to provide as follows: Footnote b of the core commercial district – Section 2.3 Table 1 is hereby deleted. Except as amended herin all other provisions of the Gaffney zoning ordinance shall remain in full force in effect.”
“We didn’t come here to defame the city and make it look bad, we just know that without God being in the center, things ain’t gonna change,” said Pastor Freyta. “This vote solidifies that God wants us to continue doing what we’ve been doing.”
The pastors were both emotional after the vote.
“It means we’ve got a lot of work to do. Our city was torn apart because of this whole incident and I don’t mean ‘torn apart’ in a sense where it’s unrepairable,” said Pastor Sarratt. “But the enemy’s plan was exposed to divide the kingdom of God, and we are not going to stand for it.”
City leaders say that part of the ordinance was meant to help revitalize the downtown.
“A lot of people have antagonized the idea or the concept to revitalize our downtown as being anti-religious and that’s simply not true,” said District Two council member Stephanie Smith. “The fact is that we need churches help.”
People from different churches also attended the meeting to show support.
“When you see those two entities coming together – the church and government – major things can happen in a city,” said Encounter Churc Pastor Joey Turner. “Major things can happen in a nation.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance though mayor jolly could not attend the meeting tonight.
Taylor said the ordinance to amend the city zoning ordinance needs a second vote for final approval, but the pastors said this at least allows them to start developing a strategy.