First Baptist has plans for new church in Lewes

Pastor says conditions imposed by Lewes council are cost prohibitive
March 18, 2023

The Rev. John Reddick, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lewes, said the church property is unique, with half in Lewes city limits and half in the unincorporated area of Sussex County.

Plans for a new church include the building within city limits and most of the parking lot in Sussex County. Both the city and county council have approved the site plan.

But, Reddick said, there are some hurdles that must be crossed before construction can begin, including 10 conditions of approval imposed by Lewes Mayor and City Council during its Jan. 9 meeting.

“To meet all of those will drive up the cost $200,000 to $250,000,” he said.

At the top of that list is a requirement for sidewalks to connect Jefferson Apartments and Bay Breeze Drive. “DelDOT did not require these and they really present a substantial financial burden,” he said.

DelDOT has required a sidewalk in front of the church to connect to pedestrian improvements along Kings Highway.

During the mayor and council meeting, Deputy Mayor Khalil Saliba was the lone vote against the conditions, expressing concerns about costs associated with complying with the conditions.

City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas told council that church representatives are welcome to come back and meet with mayor and council to discuss the impact of the conditions.

And that's what church leaders are planning to do. “We want to work with the city to address the costs,” Reddick said.

Church dates back to 1950s

The pastor said the church started out in a basement in 1958. “It's all they could afford and they built it themselves,” he said.

After two years of raising funds, the current church building was built.

“We have a lot of issues with the building. We get water in the basement and there is no ground-level access,” Reddick said. “Ongoing maintenance has accelerated and it's not sustainable.”

He said the current church will be torn down to make way for a new parking lot. The new church will be built on its property north of the current structure.

Phase 1 of the project will include construction of 14,000 square feet, including worship and education areas and offices. Phase 2 will include construction of a new recreation building with a gymnasium. The new facility will have a dining area and fellowship hall.

He said the new sanctuary will have seating for 250 people. “This will be a much more economically built church with greater environmental standards and flexible space,” he said.

A portion of the funding for the project comes from the sale of the former church parsonage and recreation center to the adjacent Big Oyster Brewery in 2019.

County wants connection

The church parking plans were approved March 9 by Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission.

Commissioner Kim Hoey Stevenson asked if interconnectivity to adjacent properties is part of the plans.

“There need to be as many ways [as possible] for emergency vehicles to go when they get there,” she said.

Although not required, Planning & Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse said it would be a significant benefit to have interconnectivity.

The church property borders Big Oyster Brewery.

“You can impose conditions for approval,” said assistant county attorney Vince Robertson.

The commission approved the site plan with the addition of interconnectivity shown on the final site plan.

Among the conditions

Conditions imposed by the city other than the sidewalks include:

• Provide architectural options to soften the appearance of the back side of the building

• If DelDOT’s Kings Highway project does not move forward, install a sidewalk or multimodal path that adheres to DelDOT standards along Kings Highway with a time frame set forth by the city manager

• Within 120 days from the date of approval, First Baptist Church will meet with the Historic Lewes Scenic Byway Committee with a special focus on view

• The stone proposed around the building should be switched to wood to reflect materials found in the area.


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