The Ormond Beach City Commission voted 4-1 against leasing the Ormond Beach Riverside Church property back to the congregation's leadership for $1,500 a month, a decision largely attributed to the building's deteriorating condition and possible public safety risks.
The lease agreement came before the commission at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 5, as a consent agenda item, which City Commissioner Troy Kent pulled for discussion. Kent expressed he still had the same concerns he brought up two weeks ago at the last commission meeting regarding safety and possible liability issues. He said the best thing for the city to do now is to take possession of the 56 N. Beach St. property it closed on for $729,000 in mid-June.
“I feel like the leadership of the church has had ample time to know when it was time for the city to take possession of the church," Kent said.
City Commissioners Rick Boehm and Rob Littleton agreed with Kent. Both commissioners had initially supported a monthly lease agreement.
Boehm said no repairs appear to have been visibly done by the church leadership, as he drove by the property on his way to City Hall and noticed damage on the roof on the back of the property. He also referenced the city's property inspection report, which suggested asbestos or lead paint could be present in the building.
He said no one should be allowed to go back inside the church building due to safety concerns.
One Ormond Beach resident spoke against the city entering into a lease agreement with the church leadership. Travis Sargent cited a Daytona Beach News-Journal article from 2012 that included comments about ex-members voicing concerns over the then-new church leadership selling the historic property, as well as a 2016 Ormond Beach Observer article about the city buying the land west of the church for $48,000. The article states the church's pastor, Michael Carruthers, said the money would go toward repairs.
The city reported the church property is currently in need of at least $2.8 million, as mold was found in the church's classroom, the HVAC system is in disrepair and the property has roof leaks in all three buildings.
Based on the condition of the building, Sargent said he did not see how the property could be fit for a monthly lease.
“It’s time to cut ties and move forward," Sargent said.
City Commissioner Dwight Selby was the only commissioner who voted in favor of entering into the lease. He said that the city doesn't have plans for the building and that the clauses in the lease ensure that the city would have access to the property for any necessary repairs.
He asked City Attorney Randy Hayes if the city could be sued should something happen while the church leadership was leasing the property. Hayes responded that he feels confident the lease agreement protects the city but that he can't guarantee a lawsuit is entirely impossible.
“It’s a piece of paper," Hayes said. "Anybody can sue anybody for anything any given time.”
Carruthers, the church's pastor, was not present at the meeting. The Observer has reached out to him for comment on the City Commission's decision.