Regional

Clergy, council at odds over use of car park

Church cries foul

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 06, 2014    

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FALMOUTH, Trelawny — ANTHONY Streete, the pastor of the First Assemblies of God Church in Falmouth, has blasted the Trelawny Parish Council for not allowing his church to continue operating a car park on its premises, as part of its efforts to raise much-needed funds to expand its outreach programmes.

Ironically, the council had operated the facility -- located at 6 Seaboard Street in close proximity to the $7.5 billion Falmouth Cruise port -- for more than two years on the basis of a lease agreement with the church.

But following a breakdown in negotiations between the two parties over the renovation of the park in April last year, the church decided to terminate the lease, and started to manage and operate the spacious parking lot.

Four months later, however, the local authority served a stop order and an enforcement notice on the church, arguing that the use of the premises as a car park was in contravention of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Giving the church seven days to cease the activity, the council warned that if they failed to comply within the specific time, "enforcement action will immediately thereafter be taken to secure your compliance with the relevant laws," as it urged the church to comply with its request.

The local authority had in 2010 approached the church for the rental of the premises as a car park -- as part of its traffic management system- as it prepared itself for the opening of the Falmouth port and the pedestrianisation of sections of the historic town.

On Tuesday, an apparently disappointed Streete described the actions of the council "as wrong," adding that they are "very vindictive," stressing that the funds raised from operating the facility were being used to expand its many community outreach initiatives.

He told the Jamaica Observer West that the council had made it clear that they would not approve any application from the church to operate a car park.

Streete charged that during the tenure of the lease, the council raked in roughly $300,000 on a monthly basis, and was paying the church the paltry sum of $20,000 monthly.

The amount paid to the church, he added, was generally not handed over on a timely basis.

When contacted, Chairman of the Trelawny Parish Council and Mayor of Falmouth Garth Wilkinson, emphasised that the local authority acted within the ambit of the law.

"We pointed out to them that they (the church) are a non-profit organisation, and so basically the Town and Country Planning Act would not permit them to operate a car park," Wilkinson explained, while noting that the act permits the council to operate the facility.

And while admitting that the local authority was making a profit from operating the car park, Wilkinson failed to disclose the monthly revenue intake from the facility.

Instead, he promised the Observer West that he would provide the information at a later date, while stressing that "operating the car park was a good income source for the council."

But insisting that the church has the "right" to operate the facility, Streete said the church has retained the services of attorney Philmore Scott of the law firm Philmore H Scott and Associates, to appeal the decision.

"Having reviewed the file I will be making an appeal to the Minister of Local Government because the Town and Country Planning Act stipulates how the matter can be dealt with," Scott told the Observer West yesterday.

"The council, having operated the parking lot on the premises has by their own actions changed the use of the land, and so I therefore see the actions of the council as raising serious issues because they previously operated the same parking lot that they have now closed down," he argued.

He stressed, however, that he would be seeking an amicable resolution of the matter through the local government minister and the council, as "the church is committed to the orderly development of the town of Falmouth and is not in it for making a profit."

Wilkinson said in the meantime, that the council is also willing to have the matter resolved, but emphasised that the law of the land will have to be taken into consideration during any negotiations.

"I have made it clear to the church that the law of the land does not allow them to operate the car park, but we can sit down and work it out. We are prepared to up the rental of the premises and make them happy," said Wilkinson.

The first Assemblies of God Church in Falmouth started in 1980 and has a membership of roughly 125.

According to Streete, the church has a very active mission outreach programme.

"We assist persons with housing; we have a school feeding programme, where persons can just walk off the street and come and get food, even without being a member; we have a scholarship programme; we supply needy persons with medication and we even assist with the paying of rent for several persons," Streete explained.

Additionally, he said, the church has a 'shut-in ministry,' and has made numerous donations to the Child Care Facility in Granville and the Falmouth Infirmary.

"We can't really do everything, but we do try to help," Streete stressed.

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