Clayton residents fight over downtown church

June 23, 2011 12:02:13 AM PDT
In many small towns, the church is the center of social activity and it is often times the largest building too, but in one small town in the East Bay that possibility is causing a fight. It's happening in Clayton and a group of people there is fighting to stop a new church from being built right in the heart of the downtown area.

In Clayton, with a population of 12,000 "growth" is a scary word, even if it's talk of a new church. The Clayton Community Church wants to take its tiny store front on Main Street and expand on its 2.5 acre property.

"It takes away from the hometown feel," said Luke Schwandt, who is opposed to church.

It wants four buildings totaling 22,000 square feet, including a sanctuary that seats 500.

"So the high school, which is no long able to do a school theater, will be able to have performances there as well," said Shawn Robinson, Sr. Pastor of the Clayton Community Church.

"It has nothing to do with it being a church. It the fact that it's going to be a two-story building that will obstruct the view of everything," said Niki Bellamy, who is opposed to church.

The church wanted single-story buildings, but the city is requiring two-story buildings with commercial space facing Main Street, essentially hiding the church offices in the back. The group that opposes the church called "Save Our Downtown" warns of traffic and parking problems along with countless events and gatherings.

About 76 percent of Clayton voters recently halted construction on a gas station, but off camera, some business owners say they're excited about 700 churchgoers flooding the downtown area.

"For us this is just an opportunity to really, I think, take something that really looks deserted and give it a really nice, fresh feel," said Robinson.

The public will have several chances to comment before the city council makes a decision sometime in November.