The Investigators: Baton Rouge pastor cited for blight on church property

The Investigators: Local pastor cited for blight on church property

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A church's newest neighbor claims its pastor is turning a blind eye to a dangerous situation steps from his pulpit. The homeowner fears a vacant building on church property has become a haven for drug dealers.

It is in such bad shape, the city ordered the pastor to fix it or tear it down. But that has not happened. Glenda Robinson's house is in a unique location. It is in an old Baton Rouge neighborhood on the path to improvement, near North Highlands Community Baptist Church on Clayton Street. Robinson moved there in June.

"I found potential in the home," Glenda Robinson said.

The wood framed house sits right next to a vacant building on the church's property. The church annex is clearly a neighborhood eyesore. Most of the windows and doors are busted out. The building is scarred with graffiti. Robinson said she liked the house so much she bought it anyway and planned to address the matter later. But she said she soon learned there was a bigger problem lurking steps from her front door.

"The hanging out, the drugs, the in and out of the church," Robinson said.

After seeing sneakers draped over the power lines in front of the building, a warning according to law enforcement officials that gangs could be marking their territory, Robinson said she installed security cameras and had a talk with the church's pastor, Claude White Sr.

"The pastor told me he was unaware of the extra-curricular activities that was going on there. I told him I can't believe that. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know what's going on in the neighborhood," Robinson said.

Robinson said she was so fed up, she filed a complaint with the Baton Rouge City-Parish Department of Public Works.

According to pictures obtained by The 9News Investigators, the city sent inspectors to the building on June 5, 2015. Photos taken inside the building show the ceiling is falling apart, the sheetrock is crumbling and the exposed studs are rotting.

"It doesn't look good on the church. It doesn't look good in the community. It's bringing down the value of the house," Robinson said.

The city's neighborhood improvement section sent Pastor White this letter on July 9, 2015 stating a routine inspection revealed the building is "in a very poor state of repair" for a number of reasons. The inspector noted the roof is deteriorated, as are the outside and inside walls, and that the building is open to unauthorized persons.

The letter also directs the pastor to repair or demolish the building by August 9, 2015.

But when 9News visited the property on August 19, ten days later, the building was still there, and it appeared only temporary repairs were made.

Code Enforcement Manager for the City of Baton Rouge, Justin Dupuy, said the repairs made are sufficient.

"He has made contact with the office. The repairs that he has made and the building is secured to a point that we are comfortable with it right now. It still has a ways to go but we try to accommodate and work with people so that we don't have to tear the building down that's one of the last things we want to do. It's a big expense on the city," Justin Dupuy explained.

Dupuy said Pastor White has not submitted any plans indicating he plans to make repairs, and the city does not have any immediate plans to tear down the building.

"I wouldn't want to live next to it. I know it's a problem and it's ugly, but our stance is we want to keep the public safe first and foremost. We really don't have any laws on the books about being ugly," Dupuy said.

Robinson said since the city's visit, Pastor White has boarded the windows, removed most of the overgrown vegetation, and put a coat of paint on the building.

"I noticed that the hanging out has slowed down, that the drug trafficking has completely almost stopped. I called the police and they are patrolling the neighborhood," Robinson said.

But Robinson said her fight is far from over. She is worried when the temperatures drop, the dealers and drifters will be back.

"They are going to come there, and do I want that next to my home? No. I am not going to have it," Robinson said.

When 9News went to Pastor White's house looking for answers, no one was there.

He did, however, agree to an interview the next day.

Pastor White said when he took over the church 10 years ago, the now empty building was a clothing and food distribution center for Hurricane Katrina victims. Five years later, he said, his plans to convert it into a youth center were torn apart by neighborhood kids.

"Did you ever report any of this to the police," reporter, Cheryl Mercedes, asked?

"No, because I understood the culture of the inner city," White responded.

It is a culture the pastor said he is working to change, but he admits he is not quite sure how or when it will happen.

"We are securing building until we can later get to a position where we can afford to go in and renovate it to a dream center," White said.

Robinson said she is not buying it.

"The community may help him, if he starts. But I don't think he is interested in fixing it. I want it torn down," Robinson said.

The Code Enforcement Officer, Dupuy, said he will be continue checking to make sure the building stays secured. If not, he said, he will recommend that it be demolished.

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