Church members speak out about potential rezoning

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - The proposal to change the zoning of a 100-year-old Ocean Springs church from commercial to residential is causing quite a stir.

Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church is tucked just behind Ocean Springs popular commercial downtown, but in a residential area. A nearby restaurant, Sakura, moved into the zoning area a few months ago and wants to obtain a liquor license. One way to do that is to change the zoning from residential to commercial.

That's where the conflict rises. Members of the church are not pleased with this proposal.

"Anyone that would want to change a residential neighborhood to commercial just to sell liquor and it's a church, I would say that's wrong," said Ocean Springs resident Yaya Muhammad.

Muhammad and Ray Buxton weren't sugar-coating their opinions about rezoning their neighborhood church.

"Why we want to commercialize and get you know more headache and more stuff piled up on them?" said Buxton.

Buxton is on the board of trustees at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and has been a member for 41 years. So, when a request to change the zoning was presented, Buxton and Muhammad were opposed.

"Because we're trying to keep our neighborhood residential and the more you change the more it qualifies for change," said Muhammad.

The proposal was tabled and Sakura Restaurant and Sushi Bar is for the change. The restaurant owners would not comment on camera saying this is an issue that members of the church must resolve.

With the church zoned residential, the law mandates that an establishment must be located at least 400 feet away from the church in order to sell liquor. Sakura is located 320 feet away from Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church."

"Well, if Macedonia rezones to commercial, like a lot of our other churches here in Ocean Springs, they would be able to have other activities that are more commercially related like daycare centers or elder care," said Mayor Connie Moran.

While the Mayor Connie Moran feels commercial zoning would have its benefits for everyone, she maintains that the decision rests in the hands of the church members.

"They will clarify that among themselves and then come back to us. We're just trying to help our businesses and protect the value of everybody's home in the neighborhood," said Mayor Moran.

Still, longtime residents of the area and members of the 100-year-old church have concerns that the rezoning would be the beginning to unwanted and unnecessary change.

The owners of Sakura Restaurant say they can still sell liquor if they obtain a waiver. So, while rezoning would help in their cause, they will stay out of the decision process.

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