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Historic Lakeland neighborhood concerned about church expansion | News

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Historic Lakeland neighborhood concerned about church expansion

Lakeland, Florida --  It's an argument of church versus neighborhood in Lakeland, where residents in one community weren't too happy about a $20 million expansion deal of a church.

"They were going to have the building come to that light post, approximately 10 feet from the F Building there," said David Philibotte, a resident of the Lake Morton neighborhood.

Phillibotte is describing the First United Methodist Church's plan to expand across from his house.

"We were worried about our property values because something across the street from us that massive would deter the property values," he said.

The church has plans to expand its youth ministry to a 58,000 square foot structure that would include a two story building and that concerned residents in this historical community.

"That's one of the main reasons I bought in this area and moved here, is because I thought I would be protected in this historical district," Philibotte said.

Commissioner Don Selvage came to the defense of the residents during an agenda study, questioning the need for the church's expansion plans.

The Lakeland Planning and Zoning Board voted to approve the expansion plans last month but church officials express their desires to be good neighbors.

"We wanted to be able to have a sincere handshake with our neighbors, to be able to look at our neighbors and say thank you for your part in the process," said David McEntire, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church.

The church agreed to scale back their plans after meeting with the residents.

"The last accommodation we made for the neighbors was to remove this piece, so the building doesn't impose on the neighbors," McEntire said.

The city council voted to approve the church's expansion plans and the neighbors were happy with the church's final outcome.

"In this day and age, it's not very often that the little guy gets some say so and we were heard over and above what was necessary," Philibotte said.

City officials say this is an example of the system working for everyone involved.

"That's what Lakeland is all about. We want to make sure everyone's voice is heard and we want to respectful towards one another," Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields said.

The city's historic commission must review whether to approve the church's plans. Pastor McEntire says he hopes construction will begin in three to four years.


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