Before the largest crowd ever to attend a Historic District Commission meeting, a Solomon-like compromise was reached that somewhat appeased the neighbors of Old Conway Historic District and the members of Calvary Baptist Church.

The commissioners voted unanimously that an offending 6-by-10-foot lighted sign on the church lawn be removed, but work may proceed on the installation of a metal roof on the structure at the corner of Robinson Avenue and Mitchell Street.

The commissioners also stipulated that a replacement sign must go through the permitting process, and any future changes to parts of the building visible from the street will also require the commission’s approval.

Neither the roof nor the sign projects had been submitted to the commission, a violation of the ordinance regulating the historic district.

Commissioners present and voting were Steve Hurd, acting chairman; Barbara Stroup, Chad Brown, Mary Etta Qualls, George Covington and Trey Massingill. City Attorney Mike Murphy and Planning Director Bryan Patrick also were present.

Speaking for the church, Attorney Matt Adlong explained that in 2008 there was significant hail damage on the church roof, and without a permit, the church put on a metal roof covering 60 percent of the roofed footprint. The remaining 40 percent was asphalt shingle.

It came to pass that there were leaks and squirrels in the building, and the 85-member congregation voted to remodel, extending the metal roof. Work was begun by contractor Keller Johnson.

The church also decided, Adlong said, to clean up, landscape and put a new sign out front.

“Apparently there was a mistake in the permitting process whereby the persons who issued the sign permit did not go through the required process,” Adlong said.

American Sign Co. received a permit through the city and at a cost of $3,700, the sign was installed.

Planning Director Patrick apologized and said his office accepted responsibility for the error in permitting that type sign in the historic district. Measures have been taken to prevent such an error in the future, he said.

According to Adlong, the sign was installed, and simultaneously the church began to reroof the remaining 40 percent without a permit. He said Keller Johnson, the contractor, inquired what permits would be required, and was told that if he was going to replace the roof with similar materials, he did not have to go before the commission.

The roof was almost finished when the city issued a stop work order. The contractor was given 24 hours to complete enough of the work so the church would be “in the dry.”

It has rained since the stop order, Adlong said, and there has been water damage to the church.

He said he was instructed by the church elders: “They don’t want controversy. They want to better their project and get more people to come to church.”

Marianne Welch, president of the Old Conway Preservation Society, said after the meeting that the commissioners had reached “a reasonable compromise. The case was an excellent demonstration of why property owners need to be aware of the historic district ordinances.”

Laura Pelley, a member of the church, said “I don’t care what we do with the sign. I don’t like it either. I formally apologize. We want to make the neighbors happy. We love it here; we love our church; we love where it is.”

After the meeting, she said she was pleased the commissioners had reached a compromise.

“We are more than willing to meet with the neighbors, and we encourage them to come to our church and listen to the message of (church pastor) Bro. Lynn Mayall.”

Commissioner Barbara Stroup said that this decision of the commissioners would not set a precedent. Each request will continue to be considered on its merit.

The commission’s decision for allowing the metal roof was determined by the fact that 60 percent of the roof was already metal, said Commissioner Chad Brown. “We’re making this decision because of the 60 percent, not the 98 percent they did without asking.”

The commission voted to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness and to rescind the stop work order.

(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at and 505-1234.)