Should the Town of Clayton try to preserve its history? Of course it should. Should the town ignore private-property rights to do so? We don’t think so.
In any event, the debate over historic preservation is largely ancillary to a rezoning request currently before the Clayton Town Council. The question for Clayton leaders to answer is whether property owners can use their lands as they see fit.
The rezoning request comes from Horne Memorial United Methodist Church, which wants the council to rezone two lots the church owns on Horne Street, just behind the main church campus. Normally, a request from a church wouldn’t meet much opposition, but one of those lots is home to the church’s former parsonage, an impressive old house of some historic significance. And some neighbors are wary of the church’s rezoning request because they fear it could lead to the house’s demise. At worst, those neighbors worry, Horne Memorial will raze the former parsonage to make room for a parking lot or playground. At best, they fear, the church will turn the house into offices.
But Clayton leaders shouldn’t let the house’s fate influence their decision on the church’s rezoning request. Horne Memorial has every right to use its properties as church leaders see fit so long as those uses don’t harm the church’s residential neighbors. Horne Memorial leaders say they have made no decisions about the properties, but it’s hard to imagine a well kept office building, parking lot or playground hurting nearby homes. Indeed, we suspect a playground would actually enhance the value of surrounding properties. Beyond that, we could make a convincing argument that Horne Memorial and its various ministries better serve Clayton than an old house.
In any event, the former parsonage itself has nothing to do with the church’s rezoning request. Rather, the question is whether the town should change the zoning from residential to office and institutional so Horne Memorial can make use of the land it owns. If the Town Council thinks changing the zoning won’t harm the church’s neighbors, it really has no choice but to grant the request.
Like the neighbors, we would hate to see a piece of Clayton’s history fall to the wrecking ball, and perhaps Horne Memorial will be amenable to preserving the house, perhaps selling it to a buyer willing to move and restore the parsonage. But that’s a decision church leaders, not town councilmen, should make.