Seacoast Church's plan to start a ministry center in the most troubled section of the Ardmore community in West Ashley has been put on hold because of neighborhood opposition.
Church leaders hope an agreement can be reached to salvage their Dream Center on Cashew Street.
Seacoast's Mount Pleasant campus is one of the biggest churches in the state, and the congregation has started 11 satellite campuses that tune in to Senior Pastor Greg Surratt's sermons. The West Ashley Seacoast has been meeting for about 10 years at a campus on Savannah Highway across from Interstate-526 under the leadership of Pastor Ron Hamilton, a dentist who helped start the original church. Helping the Ardmore neighborhood across the highway is part of their mission.
Seacoast bought a house at 637 Cashew St. earlier this year and submitted plans for a dental and medical clinic inside and basketball court and parking area outside. The Dream Center would also include a police substation.
Seacoast has operated a Dream Center on North Rhett Avenue in North Charleston for about six years. Church leaders say the center's services are a big reason crime in the area has dropped 75 percent since then.
Cashew Street is a dead-end street about a block from the apartments where police swooped in looking for Marley Lion's killer in 2012. Lion, a recent graduate of Academic Magnet High School, was fatally shot when he pulled into the parking lot of a Savannah Highway bar and grill to take a nap before driving home. Police said it was a robbery attempt gone bad. Police have been working to clean up the neighborhood.
For the Dream Center to move forward, the city would have to approve a zoning variance, but the church withdrew its application last week when leaders learned that neighbors were opposed.
Elliott Wells bought a house at Evergreen and Cashew last September. He said he would not have bought it if he had known about the plans for the Dream Center.
"It could just ruin livability," Wells said. "This is going to change the whole neighborhood."
The neighborhood already has parking issues and can't handle more traffic, he said. A nearby Alcoholic Anonymous center holds meetings several times a day.
"Certainly anyone who owns anything around here is against it," Wells said. "It's just too much for the neighborhood to handle."
Hamilton said he was most surprised to hear that the Rev. Christian King, a neighborhood minister, opposes the Dream House.
King founded The Pink House on Mulberry Street, which is a couple blocks north of the Dream Center site.
The Pink House, named for its bright paint job, has been serving the neighborhood since 1996. King said she started it because too many children could barely read. She said she has seen dozens of children go through the reading programs and on to college.
Seacoast and The Pink House have worked together on several neighborhood projects. Seacoast volunteers are serving meals this summer at The Pink House to children who have been on school lunch programs. They also give out back-to-school supplies and help with after-school programs at The Pink House.
King has lived on Mulberry Street for more than 35 years and is also president of the Ardmore/Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association.
"I understood that this was going to an Ardmore Dream Center," she said. "Then I found out it was going to be a West Ashley medical center with a police substation and basketball court. The location would not support all that, and there would not be any direct services to address the community needs. ... We have been here, and our commitment is still to serve the community in every aspect that we can."
She also objected to publicity by Seacoast and the police department depicting the community as "crime ridden, with absolutely no resources, and this new Dream Center will have to come in and provide all that." She said most of the problems are around the apartments near Cashew Street and not the rest of the neighborhood.
"We have worked hard to change the image of Ardmore/Sherwood Forest from being painted as crime-ridden communities," she said. "They painted us that way, and there was no need to do that."
Hamilton said he hopes Seacoast and the residents can come to an agreement.
"We really haven't had a chance to talk and find out what the issues are," he said. "We're invested in that neighborhood. We just need to go back to the table and find out what we need to do to make it work."
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.