Grow and Prosper
Hyde Park Baptist Church Marches Forward Forever
To those unfamiliar with its history, Hyde Park seems an unlikely outpost for a contingent of religious pioneers. The neighborhood, built in 1889 in what was then the far northern outer skirt of Austin, is still reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century suburban enclave: Many of the original Victorian residential buildings, recently restored to their former glory, remain, and the neighborhood's narrow, tree-lined streets seem better suited for horses and buggies than the SUVs and upscale sedans that race through them throughout the week. Even some of the original hitching posts remain, scattered through the area like monuments to a simpler past. Hyde Park Baptist Church (HPBC), which boasts an average Sunday attendance of around 2,500, has been around almost as long as Hyde Park. Established in 1894 by a preacher and his congregation of 11 souls, the church has in many ways grown up with the neighborhood. But unlike Hyde Park itself, the church has embraced change, not preservation, as its guiding principle: Even the original church building, a humble, wood-framed structure, was sold to Hyde Park Presbyterian Church (down the road at 3913 Avenue B) shortly after the turn of the century. As converts and donations continued to pour in, the church's compound began to consume more and more of the neighborhood around it, incensing neighbors and setting off a virtual holy war between church leaders, the City Council (which generally supported the church's expansion), and the neighborhood by the mid-1980s.
Early disagreements between the neighborhood and the church surfaced in the late 1970s, when the church applied for a zoning exception allowing it to build a 47-foot-high parking garage and a 74-foot-high sanctuary on Speedway. The zoning change was granted in 1979; Ron Mullen, now a spokesman and deacon for the church, was on the pro-growth council that granted the request. Approval of a five-story, 56,000-square-foot education building adjacent to the sanctuary came in 1987, after the church filed a lawsuit for a zoning variance in 1984, when Mullen was mayor. That same year, assistant city attorney Andy Martin determined that the church's on-site private school violated city zoning requirements. But the city did not pursue its case against the church because, as Martin pointed out in a 1988 memo, the church had "consistently demonstrated its willingness to litigate its disputes" against the city. As a result, Martin said, "[t]he short-term cost of litigating this issue -- would not be small." In addition to cost, the city feared that a win by Hyde Park Baptist would impair its ability to enforce zoning in the future.
All the while, Hyde Park Baptist was tearing down homes, many of them historic, to make room for its expansion; by the time outraged neighbors launched what would become one of the most bitter neighborhood-developer battles in Austin's history, in 1989, the church had destroyed an estimated 37 homes. Relations between the church and neighbors reached their nadir that September, when the church tore down two more houses; by late fall, neighborhood residents were picketing the church every Sunday.
The skirmish culminated, as such battles often do, in an uncertain armistice. The shaky truce took the form of an agreement between Hyde Park Baptist and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA), restricting the church from growing to the historically treasured north and east, overriding some zoning restrictions on property owned by the church, and prohibiting the NA from "oppos[ing] HPBC's expansion through the filing of protests or objections, picketing, or through the use of other means." By far the most contentious effect of the agreement -- which many neighbors say they signed under duress, fearing that HPBC would tear down more historic homes -- is that Hyde Park residents can now apparently do little to prevent further church expansion, even though many of those now living in the neighborhood moved there in the last 10 years, and had no say in the terms of the 1990 agreement, set to expire in 2010.
That same year, the city adopted an ordinance establishing a Neighborhood Conservation and Combining District (NCCD) exempting the church from some zoning provisions -- an unusual decision, given that, according to city code, NCCDs are to be set up exclusively "to protect neighborhoods that were substantially built out over 30 years ago." Neighborhood residents say that the NCCD -- which (unlike the agreement and accompanying Conceptual Plan) allows the church to build its parking garage almost all the way up to the street -- was approved with virtually no notification process or input from the neighborhood.
Today -- with neighbors still reeling from the church's last expansion, which they say eviscerated the area nine years ago -- Hyde Park is getting ready to go under the knife again. The latest church expansion, an $18 million affair dubbed "Forward Forever" by church leaders, will include a 40,000-square-foot building for Sunday school, a 550-space parking garage adjacent to the existing five-story facility; and, most ominously in neighbors' eyes, $1 million worth of unspecified "land acquisition," focusing on the residential neighborhoods west and south of the church, where the much-vilified 1990 agreement allows Hyde Park Baptist to build with virtually no restrictions.
But despite the campaign's impressive-sounding name, which evokes images of westward expansion and an ever-receding frontier, Hyde Park can't really go forward forever. Logistically speaking, the church's expansion is blocked by the four-lane expanse of Guadalupe, which marks the western boundary of the compound's potential growth.
Perhaps the most important limitation on Hyde Park Baptist, though, is its ability to raise money to fund its ongoing expansion. The land which lies in the church's proposed growth corridor (apart from the $1.7 million worth of taxable Hyde Park property the church already owns) is among the most expensive in the city; it includes numerous massive apartment complexes (the largest of which, Su Casa, is valued at $1.33 million by the Travis County Appraisal District), several old houses whose residents would have to be convinced to leave, and two properties -- Hyde Park United Methodist Church and AISD's Baker School -- whose occupants are resolute in their refusal to sell. "They have come to us every year and tried to buy the church building for their expansion," says Jodie Cook, who chairs Hyde Park Methodist's board of trustees. "They never got down to money. -- At this point, nothing is being considered."
Moreover, even if one accepts the church's claim to 11,000 members -- a claim some neighborhood residents say is dubious at best -- its current fundraising goal represents an average contribution of $1,636 per member, on top of regular tithing, or weekly contributions, over the campaign's three years. If only active members are included -- the 3,000-or-so individuals who live in the Austin area and attend church services regularly -- that sum skyrockets to $6,000 per person, or $2,000 a year. And that doesn't even take into account the church's methods of calculating membership -- which count every man, woman, and child, from two years old to 92 -- on the membership rolls.
But whatever the breadth or loyalty of its membership, not even the most skeptical neighbors believe that Hyde Park won't come up with the money eventually. As evidence for that, they simply point to the five-story parking garage that sprung out of Hyde Park soil like a sprightly weed 10 years ago, as well as the fact that, despite declining membership rolls at Protestant churches across the nation, Hyde Park has managed to expand slowly but surely outward throughout its existence and shows no sign of stopping now. And while virtually every Hyde Park resident contacted for this story echoed the same, overwhelming sentiment -- that Hyde Park Baptist has been "a bad neighbor" to those who live there throughout its recent existence -- few believed that there was anything the neighborhood could do to thwart its expansion, other than negotiate with the church in hopes that it would not go forward with its plans. "Maybe," muses Marie Carmel, a Hyde Park resident whose house lies directly in the path of HPBC's "preferred growth corridor" (but which the church is currently forbidden to purchase under the 1990 agreement), "the people in the church can be convinced that this is a bad place to grow. The streets are narrow, there's no parking, and the neighbors are always going to be at their heels. It seems like a church that's a sanctuary and a place to worship should be more peaceful so people can work on their spiritual life."
But if residents like Carmel see their neighborhood as an enclave, HPBC leaders see it as a wide-open frontier, ripe for development into church buildings and parking lots. Bob Liverman, a longtime spokesman for the church, says there's no turning back now that the church has received its instructions from the Lord: namely, to expand, evangelize, and, as its mission statement attests, reach out to "lost people everywhere." "The church has a long-range plan to move west to Guadalupe," Liverman says. "Right now, we're just following the agreement and the ordinance to the letter. There can be some tweaking" of the church's plans, "but there probably won't be many things that will be changed. We just hope we can get through these things and plan for the next 20 years."
If the church thought the 1990 agreement would mollify the neighborhood for good, it didn't count on the resourcefulness of Hyde Park residents who felt unfairly silenced by the deal. In what has become a time-honored Central Austin tradition, disgruntled neighbors banded together about two months ago to form a breakaway group -- distinct from the neighborhood association, and thus not bound by the terms of the 1990 agreement -- called the Alliance to Save Hyde Park (ASHP). The organization -- self-consciously reminiscent of the now-defunct Neighbors of Triangle Park, which broke away from the neighborhood association to oppose the Triangle Park development in 1997 -- is billing itself as a grassroots organization whose members are united in general opposition to all church expansion.
Agreeing to Disagree
Although the group does not explicitly oppose ongoing attempts by the neighborhood association to work with the church and mitigate, rather than prevent, HPBC's expansion plans, its mission is more extensive. According to an article in the Pecan Press, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association newsletter, by ASHP members Don Clinchy and Larry Freilich, the breakaway group "is following a longstanding formula for successful grassroots campaigns: Organize our group, focus on a specific, well-defined issue, publicize your point of view, recruit a few thousand supporters into a well formed, picket sign-wielding militia, and convince public officials to make decisions in your favor."
Importantly, ASHP's goals include halting -- not beautifying -- HPBC's expansion. That strategy has been troubling not only to church leaders, but also to some members of the neighborhood, who say Hyde Park fought long and hard to get where it is today, and that any backpedaling could kill an agreement that represented a hard-won compromise for those on both sides of the aisle.
"Fifteen years ago, we had a lot of animosity. There was very little discussion about anything," says Larry Gilg, the chair of the neighborhood association's five-person liaison committee to the church. "Then we signed the agreement 10 years ago, and I think the church has lived up to that agreement -- I thought we were past the point of trying to convince the church not to develop in the neighborhood, but I sense we aren't really past that point yet. When 10 years pass, people forget what went on and what we did." The bottom line, Gilg contends, is that even an imperfect agreement is better than the situation neighbors were in back in 1989, when historic houses were being torn down by the church at an average rate of two per year. "Nobody really likes [the agreement], and nobody really liked it when it came out the first time. People feel like they're getting something, but they're losing something too. -- That probably means it's a pretty good agreement."
But, Gilg admits, the neighborhood that exists now is fundamentally different -- in composition as well as in political clout -- than the Hyde Park of 10 years ago. "Nobody is legally bound by something that isn't working any more. If people think the agreement is not working, they should go to the church and say so, but I think doing both is the worst of both worlds. We can't both protest the agreement and say we're legally bound by it."
ASHP members say that claims like Gilg's go to the heart of why a new organized movement was needed: Though the neighborhood association may have signed away its official right to protest, individual neighbors still have First Amendment rights which no agreement can prevent them from exercising. "The sentiment on the agreement ranges from hating the whole thing to accepting what has been done in the past but not being happy with it," says ASHP member Carmel. "I believe the agreement was signed in good faith, but the neighborhood is also clearly afraid of the church." Other members of the neighborhood association seem, at least tacitly, to approve of the new alliance's stance. Jeff Woodruff, the new president of HPNA, says he admires the tactics ASHP has used so far. "I have respect for those not in the neighborhood association who are exercising their free right to speak," he says.
In a resolution adopted Nov. 1, the neighborhood association took an official stance closer to Woodruff's position than to Gilg's. "[I]t must be noted many individual neighbors strongly object to the terms" of the 1990 agreement and accompanying city ordinance and conceptual plan, the resolution reads in part. "Even among residents who generally accept the terms of the 1990 Agreement, there is overwhelming opposition to [the parking garage and education building]. -- Our adherence to the terms of existing documents should not be misconstrued as support for specific projects that are allowed by them."
Hyde Park residents who favor neighborhood preservation have reason to be concerned about the church's new proposals: They note that past expansions, touted by the church as both unobtrusive and compatible with neighborhood standards, have been anything but. Starting with its mammoth parking garage, which dumps hundreds of cars out onto 40th Street every Sunday morning, neighbors say the church's projects have been nothing but a succession of broken promises. The garage, neighbors say, is first and foremost an eyesore; rising 47 feet into the air above rows of one- and two-story single-family houses, it would be more appropriate in a strip shopping center, they say, than a quiet residential neighborhood. "It's not bad on the church side, where people walk out on Sunday morning, because they've landscaped it and made it very attractive," says Lyova Rosanoff, a Hyde Park resident and ASHP member whose house sits directly behind the garage. "But people walking out of church don't see the back of it, which has no landscaping and is very ugly. And at night, it's open, so that means homeless people and teenagers can go in there."
Rosanoff, who is nearly 70, says she has had to call the police on several occasions because of late-night disturbances in the garage, which is empty most of the week. Another resident says she has found used condoms and beer cans behind the garage on more than one occasion.
And if the church's expansion goes forward as planned, Rosanoff fears, the problems could get a whole lot worse. That's because her house lies directly in the path of the proposed garage expansion, which would stretch as much as 50 feet above street level and come within 25 feet of the property line she shares with the church. (The 1990 NCCD limits the parking garage to a height of 30 feet within 50 feet of the shared property line.) Essentially, Rosanoff says, "I would have a sheer wall going up right where my back yard stops, and that would effectively cut off all sunlight to my back yard." Church plans (which originally showed the garage stretching across the entire block, including Rosanoff's house) now call for the garage to go around her property, with a northward extension of the church's existing garage to come within 25 feet of Rosanoff's eastern property line.
Building the garage that way, neighborhood residents say, is a move meant to intimidate Rosanoff into selling, not to accommodate her residence. "What they're telling her is, if you don't sell to us, we'll build this garage around you," says ASHP member Stephen Wechsler. "It's like there's a rectangular notch cut into the garage, and in that notch would be her house. It's a completely grotesque violation of compatibility requirements" contained in the 1990 city ordinance, which state that new construction must be "compatible with general neighborhood standards -- so as to enhance the neighborhood concept."
The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association recently implored the church, in the person of attorney Ron Mullen, the former mayor and city council member who heads the church's liaison committee to the neighborhood, to modify its plans to make the parking garage and other projects more palatable to church neighbors. Among other changes, the association requested that the church modify the parking lot's design, move the exits and entrances onto busier, less residential streets, and resolve the issue of the garage expansion to Rosanoff's satisfaction, "and not merely rely on minimalist accommodations that may be required in the various land development codes."
But Mullen says the church is just doing what it's mandated to do. "We've said all along that we're willing to consider things that might fit in with the neighborhood better, but so many times it's just like art; it's in the eyes of the beholder in terms of what's acceptable to different people," he says. In the case of Rosanoff's home, Mullen says, "the church is going to go as close as the law allows."
Although Rosanoff's house, unlike several others in the neighborhood, is not protected from purchase by the terms of the 1990 agreement, she says the church couldn't offer enough money to make her leave her home of 32 years. "They certainly have not made me an offer that would get me excited about dropping everything in my life and moving," she says. "It's hard to explain, but when you've lived in a place for as long as I have, it's not a desirable option. -- I'm sure they're unhappy about it, but my stance is that my house isn't for sale."
Beyond the issue of whether another multistory parking facility, which the church plans to eventually join with the existing one, will destroy the character of the neighborhood is the question of whether another such mammoth structure is needed. Neighborhood residents say it isn't, pointing to the existing garage's sparsely populated top two floors; church leaders disagree, saying the current garage is underused because it's too difficult to get into and out of and its elevators are too slow, keeping churchgoers away from the garage's upper decks. ASHP member Wechsler points out that much of the garage's top floor is not even striped for parking; instead, he says, the church uses it for basketball courts. And, adds Carmel (who is married to Wechsler), the church itself has admitted in its newsletter that part of the purpose of the proposed garage is to serve the new facilities and bring in new membership. "It's here as a marketing tool to get more people into the church," Carmel says. "If they didn't build all these extra buildings, they wouldn't need this new garage."
Carmel and other neighbors worry that building a new garage -- which will dump traffic out onto an already strained, two-lane Avenue D -- will stretch Hyde Park's street capacity to the limit, making it virtually impossible for neighbors in the structure's vicinity to get in and out of their driveways on Sunday mornings, when traffic near the church reaches its weekly peak. To that, Mullen responds that neighbors are sticking their heads in the sand. "Parking garages do not create more traffic," he says. "They create zero traffic. People don't come here to park; they come here to use our buildings."
The church's existing parking facilities have also created havoc for residents on the west side of the church, where a row of houses abuts a surface parking lot built under dubious premises in 1990 (the church left one structure remaining on the property, a three-car garage apartment, and claimed it was for "religious assembly" purposes, a zoning designation that allowed it to build unrestricted surface parking to "serve" the building. One neighborhood resident says that the city's so-called "Hyde Park ordinance," which dictates that a facility may not have more parking than is actually needed to serve the facility, was created "in reaction to things like that.")
For the past nine years, the neighbors who live in the row of houses on Avenue F between 38th and 39th streets have been inundated by water in their back yards every time it rains; they say it never used to flood in their area, and only started to do so when the church tore down a row of rental houses facing Speedway to build a block of surface parking, on the site of the proposed educational building. Although church representative Liverman claims that the neighbors' property has always flooded due to the relatively flat elevation of the area ("The yards are all real flat, so when it rains there's just water that puddles up," Liverman explains), neighborhood residents who lived there before the church expansion tell a different story: The parking lot, they say, was built to drain into their back yards.
As evidence, one resident points to an elevation survey performed by city engineers at the request of the neighbors, which shows the elevation before and after the lot was built. Previously, the elevation at the front and the back of the lot, about 610 feet above sea level, was virtually identical. After the surface parking went in, the front of the lot, which faces outward onto Speedway, ranged from about eight inches to more than two feet higher than its back side -- meaning that, since water flows downhill, any rain that falls on the lot now runs onto the lot's west side, through a series of curb cuts intended to slow its flow, and into the back yards of five Hyde Park families.
Julie Koziol, who moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago, says that during last May's heavy rains, her back yard turned into a virtual swamp; even after a brief shower on Oct. 30, it had begun to fill up visibly with runoff from the church's parking lot. The church has tried a number of temporary solutions, Koziol says, including putting up sandbags, railroad ties, and even pumping the water from neighbors' back yards; but until they monitor the problem on a consistent basis, she says, the problems are certain to persist. The church, for its part, says that one proposed solution -- building an eight-foot-high reinforced wall with a two-foot underground extension to keep the water out for good -- has been put on hold indefinitely due to concerns that it is incompatible with the proposed education building, which will take up nearly half the parking lot (and will eventually be expanded to twice that size). The church also points out that the retention wall, at an estimated $150,000, would be an expensive solution for what they consider a pre-existing problem -- though it wouldn't be as expensive as the videos and brochures HPBC put together to push its Forward Forever plan, which cost the church an estimated $200,000.
That the church is spending that kind of money to sell its plan to the congregation infuriates some church members. One such member, who did not wish to be identified, says she was appalled to hear some of the stories shared by Hyde Park residents in a flier distributed at the church by ASHP members. "I didn't think they should be bullying around the neighbors," the church member says. "In my opinion, they should use that property in some other way." For her, the final straw came when the church sent out special Forward Forever piggy banks for her children to fill up with their allowance money. "My children have given to the church for missions and other things, but I put my foot down" when it came to contributing to Forward Forever, she says.
Have a Little Faith
Denise Blum, an eight-year resident of the neighborhood who attended services and Sunday school classes at the church, says she came away feeling that the church was deeply divided on the issue of how Hyde Park was spending their contributions. "At the Sunday school class I attended, there was a man who said [to Ron Mullen, who took questions on the proposed expansion], "I tithe, and I'm really concerned about where the wealth of the church is going. What I give can be a whole lot of money, but I can't afford to have my son go to school here -- and you're spending $200,000 for promotional materials?'" Blum recalls. "Ron Mullen's last words after the prayers were, "I can look at your checkbook and tell you where your heart is.' So what that says to me is, it's really all about money."
Other neighborhood residents point out that the church, in spending $18 million on facilities, is overlooking what has traditionally been one of the primary missions of a church community: to reach out to the homeless, feed the hungry, and provide assistance to the poor. For a church whose congregation has proven its ability to give generously in the past (according to IRS records, the church's income from contributions and other sources in 1997, the most recent year for which information was available, was $557,632), Hyde Park is notoriously stingy with spreading its wealth outside its approximately five-block compound. The food pantry at the church is open just three days a week, and its at-home food service (the functional equivalent of Meals on Wheels) serves fewer than 40 families in the Austin area.
Most of the houses Hyde Park has owned in the neighborhood are leased by the church to renters it approves; the others have historically served as housing for church associates, including the church's youth minister, who lives in a two-story Victorian across Avenue D from the church complex. "I would like to see them redirect what they're doing into some social programs like affordable housing," says HPNA president Woodruff, who opposes the destruction of student apartments in the path of Hyde Park's long-range plan. "There's a real need for affordable housing in this area -- so I challenge my neighbors to be interested in it, and I challenge the Baptist church to take an interest."
The church member who is opposed to the plan says that she, too, believes the money could be better spent. "They could find a better place for it, instead of it going toward gold-plated doorknobs and stupid things like that," she says. "I would much prefer to see it go to people in need or the Capital Area Food Bank or missions overseas, rather than being spent on a pretty basketball court [in the church's Quarries property in Northwest Austin]."
Whether the church changes its mission, however, will depend largely on the attitude of its leadership, whose edicts most church members follow like gospel. Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park since 1997, has been the primary cheerleader for the Forward Forever campaign since its inception earlier this year; he arrived at the church after a stint at a Baptist church in suburban Atlanta. When Bowman got behind Forward Forever, say neighborhood residents, he brought God along right with him, claiming to have seen the plan's six components -- down to the last detail, including form and geographic location -- in a vision from above. Among the promotional literature put out by the church is a flier encouraging congregants to "pray each day for Forward Forever." And in a special-edition issue of the church's newsletter, put out to encourage church members to give generously to the Forward Forever campaign, Bowman -- who hails from a family of auto dealers -- calls Forward Forever "the magnificent alliance of God's manifest will, and our ready and available response of faith. This Sunday ["Commitment Sunday," Oct. 24, when congregation members were called to commit to three years of contributions], all of our work, preparation, hopes, and faith for the future, will be realized if we all join together as one great, living organism of faith -- "
That faith, presumably, makes the suggested financial contribution -- examples listed on the sample "commitment card" provided in the newsletter range from $30,000 to $600,000 over three years -- easier for churchgoers to swallow, especially if they believe it is God's will and command that they give generously to fund the expansion. But if that same faith translates into an unquestioning belief in the inerrancy of the pastor's command, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for those who believe that $18 million might be better spent to say so, for fear of being reprimanded not just by the congregation, but in the eyes of God himself. The church member who opposes the campaign says Hyde Park members rarely speak out against their church's leadership. "I think people over there have been persuaded to think with the majority because it's easier than thinking, and a lot less stressful than standing up and going in the total opposite direction," she says. And, in fact, they don't; Denise Blum, the Hyde Park resident who attended church on Commitment Sunday, said approval of the campaign was practically unanimous among congregation members. "The whole idea is to lull these people into a certain mode, and they just give in to whatever the people in front of them are saying," Blum says. "It's really a cult-like atmosphere; you don't question the church's authority."
But perhaps the support isn't so universal after all. Indeed, some residents suggest that church members opposed to the plan simply didn't show up on Commitment Sunday, which was supposed to be the church's "historic high attendance day." In fact, one resident says, "it was anything but historic." The church's official numbers recorded 3,028 members in Sunday school on Commitment Sunday -- a full 579 fewer than the 3,607 the church was shooting for.
According to the church's own figures, a strong plurality -- around 55% -- of Hyde Park Baptist members come into the central city church from Northwest Austin; another 30% hail from the city's southwest quadrant. Meanwhile, few Hyde Park residents attend the church. This raises the question, for both neighbors and some church members, of why the church doesn't move closer to its constituency, as Great Hills Baptist did in 1982, moving to its current location on Jollyville Road after it found itself hemmed in by its location at Allandale Road and Shoal Creek Blvd. "It is completely in conflict with Smart Growth to ship people in from Northwest Austin to go to church," says ASHP member Carmel. "It doesn't make any sense from a city planning standpoint." Moreover, Carmel says, it should be clear to church members that Hyde Park Baptist outgrew the neighborhood long ago. "The neighborhood and the church coexisted peacefully for years. But they need to accept the fact that this has become a regional church, and a regional church does not fit in a residential area" (see "The Wal-Marts of Religion," p.28).
Bursting at the Seams
But apart from what pastor Bowman sees as the church's mandate to remain in Hyde Park, there's the question of whether any Northwest Austin neighborhood would be willing to take the church; as Hyde Park resident Blum points out, "the truth is, nobody wants an institution built at their front door." That, apparently, includes Northwest Austin, where a 40,000-square-foot recreation center proposed for HPNA's Quarries property in the Mesa Park neighborhood has met with unrelenting opposition from neighborhood residents, who say that it will produce excessive traffic and cause untold damage to the environmentally sensitive area (see "Quarries Qualms," p.32).
Besides, church leaders say, it will be a long time before Hyde Park residents have to worry about further encroachment of the church into their neighborhood; even though the church's long-range plans call for expansion all the way from Speedway to Guadalupe between 38th and 39th streets, current church projections include no proposed construction on that land. "That [part of the plan] is pretty far off, so I don't see us getting that big in the future," says Mullen. Church representative Liverman points out that it has been a long time -- almost a decade -- since the church's last addition, and it will probably be just as long, if not longer, before a similar expansion campaign begins. "More than likely, it will take many years before the church has need for so much land to build new facilities," says Liverman; and if the church were to build a new sanctuary, he says, "it would probably not be in Hyde Park."
For now, however, that's small comfort to the neighbors, who say they're war-weary after nearly 30 years of constant battles. And with interest in the church's growth only increasing in the neighborhood as Hyde Park Baptist escalates the speed of its expansion program (construction on the first projects, according to the church's promotional literature, is slated to start some time in the next two years), neighborhood residents who don't want the expansion are sure to get louder in their opposition.
Currently, the neighborhood is working on two larger planning efforts: a Neighborhood Plan -- already drafted and before the City Council -- that will be part of the citywide neighborhood planning process, and a Hyde Park NCCD for the area between 38th and 45th streets, and between Duval and Guadalupe. Neither plan is likely to include anything like what HPBC has in mind; but on the other hand, according to neighborhood planner Meghan Wieters, neither plan will change the terms of the Hyde Park Baptist NCCD adopted in 1990, without explicit approval by the City Council. That's because an NCCD is a city ordinance, and like any other ordinance, can be changed only by a vote of the council.
Already, neighbors are talking about asking the City Council to scrap or reassess the 1990 agreement in light of the developing neighborhood plan and NCCD, which are likely to contain provisions -- particularly those promoting neighborhood preservation -- that conflict with Hyde Park's NCCD. Since NCCDs are intended to protect older neighborhoods, neighbors say it seems only proper that the church's NCCD be subsumed by a larger neighborhood zoning overlay, which could be developed in a matter of months.
Blum predicts that it's only a matter of time before residents across the city mobilize in opposition to HPBC's growth campaign. Though the church has made it clear that it has support in all parts of the city, she says, "I think Hyde Park has just as much opposition citywide. But it's not in the neighborhood, and it just needs to be mobilized." Whether those protests will be a match for Hyde Park Baptist's fundraising juggernaut, however, is a matter even Hyde Park's prophets can't predict.