OCA helps southwest Fresno church advance two-year building permit process

Bethel Church of Christ Holiness USA Pastor Darrell Jones speaks to PARCS Liaison and OCA partner serving BIPOC communities, Pastor BT Lewis about permitting issues faced by the church in their on-site community center construction project.

Pastor Darrell Jones leads southwest Fresno’s 110-member congregation at Bethel Church of Christ Holiness USA. The mainly African American congregation has been growing consistently for the past few years. Membership increase has led Pastor Jones and his leadership team to build an on-site communal space to host Sunday school children’s classes, youth activities, church special events and community food distributions.

COVID-19 stalls church project
“The whole project was thought up ten years ago. The actual permitting and coordination with the city and PG&E happened right before COVID-19. At that time, we needed the building to be inspected and signed off. We paid for electrical and gas in advanced, but COVID interrupted the process,” said Jones.

With all city, gas and electricity fees paid, Jones anticipated a smooth and quick permitting process. That was not the case.

With statewide interruptions after COVID-19 public health emergency orders, Pastor Jones and his team faced additional hurdles in the permitting process. Inconsistent office hours and staffing changes during the telework period further exasperated the backlog. Jones recalled an email from fellow southwest Fresno Pastor BT Lewis stating he was working with the City of Fresno and decided to reach out.

OCA internal city advocacy
“Pastor Jones shared Bethel Church’s struggle advancing their on-site building project. Now working with the city, I was able to advocate internally,” said Pastor BT Lewis. Lewis had been hired as the Black Indigenous People of Color or BIPOC liaison in the city’s PARCS department and was partnering with new Office of Community Affairs on several outreach activities. Lewis reached out to Marie Chatman, senior administrative clerk in the City’s Planning Department for assistance.

Through her knowledge and internal connections, Chatman secured a planning department inspector who went out to the property and provided guidance—despite the church’s residential zoning designation. Inspectors are almost exclusively deployed to commercial planning projects.

“Our inspectors were able to go out and give Pastor Jones advice,” said Chatman. The advice provided by the city inspector helped Bethel Church focus on pending electrical issues that also required PG&E intervention.

Planning and permitting process success
Chatman’s assistance went further. The nearly two-year delay in the permitting process resulted in additional late fees and charges that Chatman successfully sought to waive.

The permit and construction process has kept moving since Pastor Lewis’ intervention on behalf of Bethel Church of Christ Holiness USA. The church’s community building will open its doors to the neighborhood and congregation in early July 2022.

Pastor Jones credits Lewis’ assistance in the project’s positive outcome. “If it weren’t for Pastor Lewis’ intervention, we would still be standing here. Without an advocate for the community and families that are in need, things wouldn’t move forward. We have an advocate now who is going to be a voice for us,” said Jones.

For assistance to Fresno’s BIPOC communities, you can reach Pastor BT Lewis at [email protected].