ELYRIA — The city is reimbursing the Beyond the Walls Church $2,000 in building permit fees the church has paid as it works to refurbish the facility to comply with building codes.
The local church, where members feed the hungry and minister to the homeless, operates out of the old Roosevelt Elementary School building.
In May, church officials received a cease-and-desist notice from the Elyria Building Department barring it from using the Woodford Avenue facility until it corrected code violations. That led church members to meet in the parking lot for church services and to shutter the church food bank.
The city granted a temporary occupancy permit in July to allow church services to be held indoors and members to restart the meal program, but the work to bring the church completely up to code is expensive.
Pastor Paul Grodell said the $2,000 repreive from the building fees will help.
“The total cost for the improvements is $70,000, and it’s being done by Yost Construction, but we have to do the work as we have the money,” he said.
Councilmen Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, and Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, did not vote in favor of the reimbursement, as both believed it could set a bad precedent in the city. In addition, Craig said the city has actually denied moral claims of less money from residents.
Mayor Holly Brinda said the expectation for the church was a small gesture the city should be willing to make.
“This church, this organization, is doing some much-needed work in that part of the community,” she said. “We think it’s worthy of this small help we can give them.”
The church first began leasing a portion of the school from the district in 2012. Last year it won a bidding war for the property and bought the building for $50,000. Roosevelt, built in 1922, closed in 2009 due to declining enrollment.
The city became involved after church officials requested an inspection of the building in preparation of the church opening a halfway house focused on drug rehabilitation. However, because the building’s use changed from educational to assembly use, the building was required to have a full sprinkler system, updated fire alarm system, emergency lighting and approved exit signs.
Police Chief Duane Whitely asked Council to pass the ordinance in light of the church’s aggressive plan to address drug addiction and recovery.
“I can tell you, in my 26 years in law enforcement, I have never seen heroin this bad,” he said. “There are zero facilities that address males or females struggling with addiction in the city. The dollar amount is very insignificant when you think about the good that could be done in Elyria.”
Grodell said contractors completed some work to meet the requirements, and the city gave the church a temporary occupancy permit. The church is working on the occupancy permit for the drug recovery initiative the church is calling Creation House.
Creation House will have a five pillar program for addicts — love, accountability, discipline, discipleship and supervision.
Grodell said the church has not given up on opening Creation House, and “if anything, we gained a little momentum,” he said.
This is not the first time City Council has voted to waive building fees for a church or nonprofit group. Typically, before seeking the permits, a group will ask for all fees allowable by law to be waived.