Tampa council to hear Without Walls rezoning request
TAMPA - The congregation at Without Walls International Church is moving a step closer to needing a new home. Tonight developers will ask the Tampa City Council to rezone nearly 11 acres of the church’s property to allow construction of 557 apartments. They also want to build an unknown number of restaurants and up to 15,000 square feet of shops. The council will hold public hearings on this and other rezoning matters beginning at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 315 E. Kennedy Blvd. A $14 million deal between Without Walls and The Richman Group of Florida is pending approval of the projects. In January, Randy White, pastor of Without Walls, said a search committee had begun looking at potential relocation sites for the congregation.The church hopes to find an existing building rather than build a new sanctuary. City planning officials have recommended approval of the rezoning requests. Area residents initially worried developers might open up Grady Avenue, bringing cut-through traffic to quiet neighborhood streets. “That would be a horrible, horrible idea,” said Maurice Harvey, president of the Carver City/Lincoln Gardens Civic Association. The avenue now dead-ends toward the rear of the church’s property. But Harvey said the plan is to include Grady as part of a circular drive through the site, and residents don’t object to that. Residents would like to see landscaping along the rear boundaries of the property, Harvey said. In general neighbors don’t oppose the apartments, he said. “The apartments will be the buffer for the retail,” Harvey said. Without Walls has struggled in recent years with its finances, including a $12.5 million mortgage and a dwindling membership. White and his former wife, Paula White, founded Without Walls nearly 12 years ago. It became one of the largest independent evangelical churches in the country with a reported 22,000 members. But five years ago, as the couple’s marriage unraveled, the church and its finances suffered also. Paula White led the church for a few years before starting a church in Orlando. Randy White returned to his leadership role in July. In January he told a reporter he planned to restore the church financially and spiritually. If the redevelopment project is approved and the sale is finalized, White said the church then would be debt-free and have money in the bank. Church officials could not be reached for comment.