Editor's note: The author of this report is a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes.
OLD FOURTH WARD — After some 45 minutes of impassioned debate, the Fourth Ward Neighbors community association on Tuesday voted against supporting a plan by Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church to rezone a vacant lot for parking.
The church has the 1.36-acre tract sits off Edgewood Avenues and is bordered by Boulevard and Daniel and Gartrell streets under contract as part of its long-term expansion plans.
Those plans include the construction of a new, larger sanctuary to replace the existing one that fronts Boulevard. That larger church will take nearly all of its current parking spaces, which led to Lourdes' $1.5 million option to buy the tract in question.
But residents of Daniel Street oppose the zoning change, saying approval of the zoning change would not be in compliance with the neighborhood's master plan and the area would be better served if the lot was redeveloped into more residential and retail.
The Atlanta City Council will have ultimate authority to approve or deny the request, but Lourdes still has to make presentations to the neighborhood association and Neighborhood Planning Unit-M.
The church also will have to make a presentation before the Urban Design Commission because a portion of the subject property falls within the Old Fourth Ward's historic district.
"It's important to understand that this is a residential neighborhood," Cyerra Crumrine said. "The Daniel Street neighbors support the development of this land as active use for new neighbors and new businesses, but we oppose the dead space that is a parking lot and we oppose the application that is submitted tonight."
Others said echoed those sentiments arguing that a surface lot would detract from the neighborhood, not add to it.
"We live in a place that's so rich in heritage," Daniel Street resident Jeremy Webb said, noting Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home is just a few blocks away.
That the city is laying tracks for the streetcar and the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine is now open encourages a more pedestrian, walking environment, he said following the meeting.
Indeed, he and several residents wore tee-shirts opposing the proposal that read "Daniel Street needs new neighbors, not cars."
Webb added he'd like to see a study done of other neighborhoods in similar situations to see what solutions they developed as a compromise.
But Lourdes supporters countered the church has been a part of the community for 100 years.
"We've been good neighbors in this neighborhood," Princess Wilson, a Lourdes member and Old Fourth Ward resident, said, noting the church supports a number of community efforts including feeding the homeless and Operation P.E.A.C.E., which focuses on at-risk youth.
"I am passionate just as much as you are," Wilson said. "We just have a bigger family and we need somewhere to park."
Church representatives, who are scheduled to make a presentation tonight before the Old Fourth Ward Business Association, said as part of their plan, neighboring businesses would be allowed allow to use the lot as well.
Parking is an issue, said Ernie Odin, a representative of Café Circa.
"We don't have enough parking" Odin said. "I'm all for retailing, but if you build a strip center with new businesses, where are they going to park?"
Matthew Garbett, president of Fourth Ward Neighbors, later noted zoning for the lot prohibits a strip mall.
"A strip mall would never be allowed under zoning in that area," he told East Atlanta Patch. "It's important that the discussion be based on facts, not hyperbole."
David Patton, who represented Lourdes in its presentation, said the lot, which has two boarded up abandoned homes, has been in its current state for some two decades.
"In as much as the street and this particular lot has laid fallow for more than 20 years, their position is to say "no" or "hell no" for an auxiliary use that would clean up their block and the southern entrance to the Old Fourth Ward immediately," Patton said after the meeting.
"If somebody had come before now with money and the wherewithal to develop that lot according to their [Daniel Street residents'] desires, don't you think they would have done it before now?
"Instead, they completely dismiss their commercial neighbors and Our Lady of Lourdes and our ongoing parking challenges without even so much as a suggestion on how to fix it."