At first glance the local zoning requirements seem clear, no bar can be located within 500 feet of churches or schools. However, developers who plan to refurbish 155 W. College Avenue and open a bar – which is less than 500 feet from First Baptist Church – is asking the City of Tallahassee to allow the project to move forward because First Baptist Church is not “exclusively” a church.
Property and business records show the building to house the proposed bar is currently owned by the College Ave. District LLC . The sole “Manager” of the LLC, according to Sunbiz.org, is Craig Mateer, an Orlando businessman. Mateer is also a former FSU basketball player and a current member of the FSU Board of Trustees.
The property was acquired by College Ave. District in June 2020 for $1.24 million.
Officials with the First Baptist Church have made it clear they oppose the development due to the zoning requirements and, in part, due to prior experience with bar patrons in the area.
The City of Tallahassee, in a recent communication, stated that the proposed development “does not meet the separation requirements of Sec. 3-2 of the Code of General Ordinances, which requires that the establishment be located at least 500 feet from churches and schools.”
However, the communication also noted, “the applicant has argued that the separation requirement should not apply because First Baptist Church does not meet the definition of “church” as outlined in the City’s code.”
The code defines church as “any building used exclusively for religious services and religious education regularly and the title to which such building is owned or held by such church.” The applicant has argued that the zoning regulations do not apply because the church operates additional uses on the site, such as a health club and restaurant.
However, representatives of the church have indicated that the 500 feet separation should apply to the site, not only because of the church, but because they also operate a VPK program that they believe qualifies as a school.
First Baptist Church was first organized in 1849 as the Baptist Church of Tallahassee. The named was changed in 1894. The church considered changing locations in the early 2000’s but decided against a move.
Staff with the City of Tallahassee has indicated that the City Attorney’s Office is reviewing the specific code provisions related to the issue and expects to make a decision next week.