By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend approval for repurposing a Whitfield Street commercial building as a place of worship for Tribe Judah Ministries, adding an extra condition to address parking issues.
Commission chair Jerry Emison said it would be best for the church’s representatives to be able to demonstrate to the city planning department that the church would have adequate parking.
“It’s not in your interest and it’s not in the general public’s interest that you not have a place to park,” Emison said.
Gregory Mostella and his wife Michelle Mostella, founders of the 30-member Tribe Judah Ministries congregation, came to the commission asking to hold worship services on property zoned C-2 at 730 Whitfield St. Greg said the church’s purchase of the building was pending the Starkville Board of Aldermen’s approval.
“We understand this was previously a daycare and then the alternative school,” Gregory Mostella said. “For large venues, funerals and things in that nature we are discussing ... working with our sister churches to hold those elsewhere.”
Commissioner Ira Loveless said he understood the building was vacant due to problems making the alternative school’s teachers sick, and he asked Gregory Mostella if he knew what the specific cause of the problem was. Gregory Mostella said there was mold in the building, but the issue has been treated, and Michelle Mostella said an inspection for further issues was planned pending the sale.
“The problem was, according to the owner, they had the heat on up to 80 (degrees) in the wintertime,” Michelle Mostella said. “The gravel next to the building, they had it up so high that it couldn’t have the proper drain-off.”
For this reason, Michelle Mostella said, gravel near the building has been displaced, but Loveless said this reduced options for parking near the building. Loveless said he was concerned that people might try to park in the back parking lot of a shopping center across the street, but Gregory Mostella said the congregation does not intend to infringe on others’ parking. Loveless said he was still concerned.
“That particular location is on a high-traffic street with no adjacent parking,” Loveless said. “The problem I have with this lot is that it’s landlocked. If your church does what you anticipate it doing, you’re going to have a big church with no parking. I wish you had (pursued) any other property in town.”
City Planner Ben Griffith said parking regulations for places of worship require one parking space for every five seats in its largest room of assembly, typically the sanctuary. Gregory Mostella said while the exact seating arrangements are not yet determined, he anticipates Tribe Judah Ministries growing to at least 50 members soon. Currently, he said, only 10 of Tribe Judah Ministries’ 30 members drive vehicles.
“Some seniors do not drive,” Gregory Mostella said. “They ride a bus or (ride) with family members.”
Commissioner Jeremy Murdock said he believed the Mostellas could provide 10 parking spaces needed to comply with the ordinance. Commissioner Dora Herring said there were only seven parking spaces in the front, with dirt parking in the back. Loveless said he wanted to see the parking in the back improved, leading Herring to propose an extra condition for the commission’s approval to the six already in place.
“I would like to add a seventh condition saying the certificate of occupancy would not be issued until the back is prepared for (parking),” Herring said.
Griffith said the condition would be better if it withheld the certificate of occupancy until the parking infrastructure met the parking requirements for places of worship he described earlier, and the commission agreed to this condition. With this amendment in place, the commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the Mostellas’ request, with Loveless voting against and Commissioner Jason Walker absent.