City delays vote on granting iconic church historic status

March 13, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Council has delayed a vote on whether it should grant historic status to an iconic egg-shaped church after church leaders and the congregation complained the designation would hinder property rights.

The 32-acre First Christian Church has been for sale since 2016. A vote approving historic landmark designation would prohibit demolition or changes to the property for 180 days.

David Box, an attorney for the church, said that would make it hard to sell.

“Every rezoning case I’ve ever appeared on, it is either the owner of the property or it’s an applicant with a letter of authorization on behalf of the owner that allows them to come and file,” Box said. “This should be an extraordinary measure by the City Council for them to impose their will against the desire and rights of the current property owner.”

The 40-member congregation is not tied to the building, but if they can’t sell the property they would want to keep it operational, according to Rev. John Malget, a senior pastor. This might not be possible if strict historical district standards are imposed.

Councilman Ed Shadid proposed designating historic status to the church, saying it is important for its cultural value, political heritage and architectural significance. He voiced concerns that the unusual building, which was built in 1911, would be pulled down.

Steve Felton, church board chairman, disputed Shadid’s reports that a board member contacted him seeking information about what a buyer would need to do to raze the property.

“As long as I have a breath left, we’re not going to file for a demolition permit,” Felton said.

All sides should visit and discuss how to develop a plan that wouldn’t abandon the property, force the church into bankruptcy, or leave the city susceptible to a condemnation lawsuit, Councilwoman Meg Salyer said.

“I have personally spoken to two parties who are interested in making offers for this property,” said Salyer, herself a veteran urban core real estate investor and developer. “There are over 20 acres of property, the church and theater sit on about three. We have to be realistic that maybe on the other property there is room for other development. And maybe that can be a win-win.”

The council agreed Tuesday to delay a historic landmark vote until April 9.

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