Point Breeze church seeks divorce from row house

Frientship Baptist Church has occupied this building since 1941. It needs major repair work...
Frientship Baptist Church has occupied this building since 1941. It needs major repair work…

The Friendship Baptist Church, located at 1311 South 18th Street, is in the process of being renovated, and has been for some time. Age has taken its toll – the church has been in this Point Breeze building since 1941 – as has usage, and Friendship Baptist has been slowly repairing the minor and major problems that can occur as a building ages. The largest repair has been patching a leaky roof, but other miscellaneous interior fixes are also needed. The funds required for minor fixes are not minor, however. For an institution that relies largely on the generosity of others to exist, as most if not all churches do, finding this money can be difficult. To this end, Friendship Baptist is seeking to split off a house attached to its rear and sell the unit.

Rowhouse at back of church
…and wants to sell this house attached to its rear to raise the necessary funds.

The two-story masonry house has been attached to the backside of the church since its creation. To split the one lot that contains both the house and church into two lots, the church is seeking a variance, and presented its request for one at the June meeting of the Point Breeze Community Development Coalition (PBCDC).

Church and house
It seems the legal status of this one-lot, two-buildings arrangement is murky, both to the church and to L&I.

The structures on the lot are by nature non-conforming, as churches are generally required to be detached structures. As such, the current state of affairs is murky for the church, and it doesn’t seem to be that clear to L&I either. According documents from the church, L&I does not have the lot qualified as a house of worship, which it has been since 1888. This complicates the church’s application for a variance, even though it’s certainly due to a clerical error. Furthermore, the proposal was issued a refusal for rear yard depth on the house, listing the existing depth as zero. This, says the church, is another clerical error, as there is a backyard and it is of sufficient size. Yet, as you know if you’ve ever renewed your driver’s license, the wheels of bureaucracy grind on regardless.

Broken windows at churcn
Replacing broken windows is just one of the items on the church’s repair list.

Currently, the church is renting the home and would sell it to the current tenants to raise funds to complete its repairs. Reaction at the PBCDC meeting was very positive, with anecdotal reports indicating that the relief sought will be granted. However, as we mentioned before, this is not yet official, and the voting process at the meeting was somewhat chaotic. But if the Zoning Board of Adjustment approves the project and issues the required variance, the murk should be cleared up and the church will sell its property and continue its repairs.

Photos by the author