Bethal Village facility unwanted by Springfield community

Posted: May 02, 2011 10:30 PM CDTUpdated: May 16, 2011 10:27 PM CDT

By Allyson Walker – email
Springfield, Fla. -Springfield City Commissioners are walking a tight line between the Rescue Mission and residents.Reverend Billy Fox wants to expand Bethel Village and citizens say ‘no.’

At Monday night’s meeting the tension rose to angry words between both groups.

Citizens in Springfield say they’re afraid of what a Bethel Village expansion could bring to the community.

Commission members say they want to do the right thing for both the nonprofit and the community. But right now, that line is blurred.

“None of us want it here…or…very few of us!” says a Springfield citizen

The ‘it’ is Bethel Village, a nonprofit organization that houses women and helps many battle drug addictions. It’s set to expand, according to Director Billy Fox and the issue created tension at Monday’s city commission meeting. Commissioner Gerry Lowther tells Fox “…you’re entitled to do what you want to do, but you’re entitled to do that in accordance with the O.D.R. If we don’t do it that way, the public outcry will become vicious, particularly when you want to live in a happy neighborhood up there, and you’re going to have to…”

Fox, who also directs the Rescue Mission, has been planning for an expansion of Bethel Village for about three years. He attests that his engineers drew up expansion plans in accordance to the city’s mandates, but commission members say the plans are not detailed enough.

Commission members say there are areas of concern, like security.

But Reverend Fox says the village has fulfilled every requirement “…we really have been, for the last three years, been giving them everything they’ve asked for.”

May 31st is the magic deadline when everything must be in order for the grantors. That’s why supporters gathered Monday to pray for the program and the commission’s actions at the meeting.

One Springfield resident claims that the village has already brought turmoil into the community, and that an addition would only be worse.

Edwina Dykes, whose husband is a newly elected commissioner, says she has a doubly vested interest since they live near the village. Dykes says “…we have a family community area, and we really don’t want all of that in our neighborhood.”

The board voted to table this issue. A special meeting will be held to discuss the concerns and a vote will determine the future of Bethel Village for the time being.

Where is the “Christian Charity” on the behalf of the rescue mission management and board of directors who are attempting to force this facility down the throat of a community that is not wanting it? Mr. Billy Fox, director of the rescue mission shows his Christian philosophy  by suing the city of Springfield, Florida.

The Panama City Rescue Mission’s recent run-ins with Panama City and Port St. Joe city officials are well-documented, but the mission’s problems with Springfield are the most costly.

Last Thursday the mission lost a quarter of a million dollar grant to expand its Bethel Village facility in Springfield.

Rescue mission officials had planned to expand the Bethel Village women and children’s center in Springfield, adding more cottages, duplex units, and a multi-use family life center.

Those plans are now uncertain due to delays and a missed deadline.

“What we really envisioned would happen seems to have died” says Panama City Rescue Mission’s Executive Director, Reverend Billy Fox.

For the last three years, Rev. Billy Fox worked tirelessly to secure a $270,000 dollar grant to expand the Bethel Village Springfield campus to accommodate 45-women and children .

Last Fall Springfield city commissioners denied the mission’s request for developmental order, saying the project not being in the city’s best interest.

So Fox sued.

In February, Judge Michael Overstreet ruled Springfield commissioners did not provide an adequate reason for denying the permit. He ordered the city to reconsider the issue, which commissioners say they did.

“We had those concerns but we gave it to the engineers to get together and work it out. The ball was in their hands” says Commissioner Curt Curti.

Rev. Fox argues that was hardly the case, accusing commissioners of intentionally stalling so the mission would miss last Thursday’s deadline and losing $270,000 in grant funding.

Whether intentional or not, that’s what happened.

“It’s disheartening that politically, people will treat others like this.”

It’s still unclear whether the project will move forward. Rev. Fox says he is considering re-applying for the grant. The city is still in the process of deciding whether to issue the Rescue Mission the developmental order.

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