A little prayer culminated – together with a strong resolve to fulfill its mission of expanding its presence to a new affordable housing complex – giving the leadership of Bristol’s Norton Avenue First Baptist Church the ability to expand.
The Bristol Township District Hearing Council voted unanimously last week to allow the 60-year-old church to expand its presence with a 51-unit, senior-centric housing complex. The decision comes after the council rejected a similar request from the church in March last year.
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Reverend James Evans III, in his 30th year of leading congregants at 1230 Norton Street, said the needs of his flock and community outweighed any thoughts of abandoning the project.
“Knowing the area is one thing, knowing the community is another; I know the community,” Evans said before the board made its decision. “I know the pain in the community, I know the suffering of the community, and I know a lot of people who are looking for a way to survive in the community, but don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to live there.
“These are some things I have to keep in mind because I’m with (the people), literally,” Evans added. “So I couldn’t give up on it.”
Bryce McGuigan of Bigley, Carlin & Mandew, LLP who represented the church at both sessions, said the pool would be exclusive to the seniors community. Bigley also admitted that the project wasn’t quite ready for consideration when the plan was first rejected.
“The proposal is an apartment complex of 51 affordable housing units for seniors,” Bigley said. “It will be a 55-plus community and will specifically consist of 46 one-bedroom apartments and five two-bedroom apartments.”
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Ultimately, the church will combine 11 separate plots into one complex, occupying 1.37 acres and centering near the intersection of Watson and Norton Roads and extending to Elwood Street.
Evans said the hardships have only increased for his parish and community since the initial denial, citing inflation and the rising cost of living, including higher rent and higher grocery prices.
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Evans is uniquely positioned to know the corridor and needs of the community it serves.
Aside from his duties as a pastor, Evans also serves as the CEO of No Longer Bound, a non-profit preventive services organization, also located on Norton Street, that focuses its efforts on disadvantaged and at-risk communities.
Gregory Elko of Langan Consulting Engineering and the lead architect for the project, said Watson Street would be “emptied” and would become a cul-de-sac as a transformation took place within the complex. The complex will also have a 26-hole communal car park. The project does not require any tax cuts and there will be no children living in the building.
The construction start date will be determined.