Legal battle brewing over historic Addison church site

Church owners are demanding a permit be approved by the town

It's been called one of the most historically significant black churches in north Texas. Now, its owners are fighting for its future.

White Rock Chapel sits on a 1.2-acre piece of property on Celestial Road in Addison, surrounded by multi-million dollar homes.

Donald Wesson and his family bought the property five years ago. It wasn't used, and they felt its history was in danger.

“When we heard about this story and the fact that this church would possibly be purchased to be demolished and the rich history lost, we said, ‘That can’t happen’,” recalled Wesson.

A Texas historical site, the church was founded by former slaves in 1884 and then joined in worship by the people who once enslaved them.

“That is the kind of legacy of reconciliation this church was formed on and that we intend to build upon going forward,” explained Wesson.

The Wessons began reviving the property after they bought it, hoping to make it a place of worship for people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Now, those plans are on hold.

“When we were moving forward with the permits that we needed to restore the chapel, neighbors in the surrounding neighborhood put up opposition,” said Wesson.

Despite nearly two years of meetings with critics, the Town of Addison says since more than 20 percent of landowners within 200 feet of the proposed zoning change filed a written protest with the Town, the Wesson’s special use permit request needed to be approved by a supermajority vote or six out of seven members.

It failed by one vote.

“It was disappointment. It was really disappointment,” said Wesson.

The Wessons are now pushing back.

Jeremy Dys, an attorney with Plano-based First Liberty Institute, is now demanding the Town of Addison approve the Wesson's request.

“Why we would have so many neighbors being upset at the presence of an African American congregation that was founded by freed slaves that continue to exist in 2023 America is beyond me,” said Dys.

“They don't have a permit to occupy the building, they can’t use it as a church, and so we were left with really no option but to suggest that the law is opposed to the city of Addison here, and if they don't reverse course, and do so really quickly, then we're going to be left with no choice but to take them to court."

In a statement, the town of Addison says in part it "has been a longtime supporter of the White Rock Chapel," and that "Council did vote to waive the one-year waiting period for refiling, which allows the Wessons the opportunity to bring forward a new request at any time."

The church has endured floods and fire over the decades. The Wessons have faith it'll overcome this, too.

“We are not quitting,” said Wesson.

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