DEL CITY — When Del City residents showed up in force in late June to protest a local church's plan to convert its building into a halfway house, they were recreating a scene that has played out numerous times in cities throughout the nation.
The show of force by about 200 residents was enough to sway the Del City Planning Commission, which denied a private company's request for a zoning change that would've allowed a 200-bed halfway house to relocate from south Oklahoma City.
“I feel that there's really no benefit to bring this into the community,” Planning Commissioner David Martin said.
Other attending, including longtime resident Don West, made similar comments during the planning commission's June 28 meeting.
“I thought I would live and die here,” said West, a 56-year resident of Del City. “I don't want to leave, but I might have to.”
The staff at Howard Memorial Baptist Church, which is for sale due to a dwindling congregation, was hoping the flood of inmates would bolster its numbers and help it survive.
Andrew Mericle, the church's pastor, also would serve as chaplain to the halfway house. He claims the move isn't intended to profit his struggling church.
The city council will decide the issue on Monday.
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Corrections Department, said the uproar in Del City isn't a surprise to those familiar with halfway houses.
“People tend to freak out when they hear they're going to build a halfway house, or a prison for that matter, in their area,” Massie said. “It's normal. It's expected.”
Indeed, other cities have seen similar protests and uproars play out when a halfway house company tries to move into new territory.
In April, the zoning board in Scranton, Pa., unanimously rejected plans for an apartment building to be converted into a halfway house with a 112-bed capacity.