Joni Mitchell once sang “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” in her famous 1970 hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.
Although the condition of the old Riverside Church at 56 N. Beach St. in Ormond Beach is far from paradise, residents at a special city commission meeting July 13 still didn’t want it demolished and turned into a parking lot.
The City of Ormond Beach already signed contract to have the historic building demolished with one plan to put in a temporary parking lot after that is accomplished.
Many feel the building should be fixed and repurposed, bringing in a veteran’s museum on the spot or a community center. Or the site should be sold with something else erected there to benefit the community. Most of the 25 citizens speaking at the meeting wanted the city to at least wait six months before any demolition occurs to research other options and to determine the best use of the property.
Some of the loudest applause came when Mayor Bill Partington’s father, Bill Partington Sr., spoke. The elder Partington said, “This meeting is an opportunity for those of us who felt the vote to demolish the church was premature and was decided without the opportunity for the public to be heard. I have been an interested party since the beginning. It’s time to admit that this could have been handled better and delay the demolition until the city can be conducted to evaluate all of the options.”
Fellow citizen Rita Press stated, “There was a lack of community input. It has been stated by your representatives that your constituents are your bosses. Tonight you are hearing from a groundswell of bosses that are asking you to please pause the demolition. We’re not asking you to change your mind but rather asking for the opportunity to open your mind and explore all the possible options. Give the process the thorough vetting it deserves. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”
Judy Stein, president of the Ormond Beach Arts District, said, “Both the Ormond Beach Arts District and Historical Society support preserving the building. If this building is not preserved, part of our culture and history will be gone forever. Please pause the plan to demolish it. It would be a win-win for all.”
After public comments, city commissioners weighed in on the discussion.
Commissioner Dwight Selby first thanked all in attendance for sharing their thoughts and ideas along with maintaining civility. “People care about our city. I did not vote for the demolition of the building. I hoped we would enact a six-month pause, but that’s not what we did.”
The problem is the contract, Commissioner Selby said.
“We can’t reconsider a contract with a construction firm. Once we issue a contract, we don’t have the right to cancel the contract because the contract is mutual,” he said. “What we can do is talk to the contractor and say would you consider modifying your contract. Would you consider making a change in your contract.”
Commissioner Rob Littleton stated he was ready to move forward with the demolition as the property was purchased three years ago and it hasn’t been used the whole time.
“No one in the three years has come to me with anything even close to a plan for the property,” Commissioner Littleton said.
Commissioner Selby countered with “this meeting right now is the first opportunity these people have even had to begin to tell us. I think we owe it to them to come up with a plan to see if whether or not it is good enough.”
A few days after the meeting, Mayor Partington summed things up by stating “the vote to demolish had already happened (prior to the meeting). Commissioner Selby and I had voted no to give it a little more time. The others voted to demolish it. I’ve gotten over 100 emails requesting extra time. People wanted to put together a plan to save it. Nobody changed their mind of the people who voted to demolish.”
The building will be razed, but the parking lot isn't a done deal, the mayor said.
“That part could still change. Maybe leave it as a field with no parking or decide to go ahead and put a community center or something else on there,” he said.
Mayor Partington added there is a possibility the city could sell the property but the city would want to be sure whatever was put there benefited the community and selling it may not be practical.
“I tend to be optimistic and hope that listening to our residents will lead to something (beneficial to the community),” he said.
The demolition could take place within the next two weeks.