BELTON — The First Baptist Church is an unmistakable landmark here.
Its cross-topped spire juts into the sky, towering over nearby businesses and homes on Main Street. The 10-acre campus covers several city blocks. It is the dominant view for motorists traveling west on Sixth Avenue.
The church’s prime location at 506 N. Main St. has been its home for more than 70 years.
Following a land swap with the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor that occurred last year, the congregation will move to a new $30 million facility on a 35.6-acre property on Loop 121 by 2021.
The Belton City Council Tuesday rezoned the parcel at 1308 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
In a 6-0 decision, the land is now a planned development office district. Previously, it was a university campus zone. Councilman Craig Pearson recused himself from the vote; he is the executive pastor of First Baptist Church.
“The planned development district is proposed to address variations in our design standards with regard to the exterior building materials,” Planning Director Cheryl Maxwell said. “We did opt to bring the exterior modifications to you because they are a little bit more substantial so we want to make sure you have the opportunity to review and approve those.”
The city requires a building’s exterior to be at least 90 percent masonry, such as brick or stone. The exterior of the proposed church would be made of 54 percent Neolith stone — a product composed of granite, glass, clay and natural pigments.
Keith Bailey, the architect for the new First Baptist Church campus, said Neolith can be considered a masonry material in some municipalities.
“The only difference is that it is not applied in a traditional way, like brick or stone would be laid up,” Bailey said.
Maxwell assured the Council that this material seems to be durable and would meet requirements despite it not being considered masonry under the city’s design standards.
Although this appears to be a straightforward rezoning case, Maxwell told the City Council about a curveball: A new law, House Bill 2439, going into effect on Sept. 1 will prohibit municipalities from requiring certain exterior building materials for residential and commercial construction.
State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, authored the bill and Lakeway Republican Dawn Buckingham — Bell County’s state senator — carried it in the upper chamber.
“This is under review by our legal staff so we’re not really quite sure at this point the full implications,” Maxwell said. “It’s possible that our masonry requirements may no longer be enforceable. But at this point in the interim, we’re proposing to keep the building material as part of the (planned development) and the applicant does not object to this.”
Until the law goes into effect, Councilman Guy O’Banion said Belton needs to continue enforcing its design guidelines.
“My only concern is this is another example of the state taking away local control (for municipalities) to set reasonable restrictions for development within the cities,” Mayor pro tem Wayne Carpenter said. “It certainly doesn’t impact what we’re doing here … I think that needs to be stated because it could have negative ramifications in the future.”