Club for youth closed
By Jason Foster, Photos by John
Gazette Staff Reporter
— A place that opened its doors to Gaston County’s youth
had its doors shut by the city of Belmont.
The city shut down the 7th City Christian
teen club on Foster Machine Road on Oct. 6 because it
didn’t comply with zoning ordinances, according to the
Belmont Planning Department.
The club recently celebrated its one-year
The land where the 7th City building sits
was zoned for a business and not for religious activity,
according to the city.
Belmont Abbey College owns the land and
leases the building to 7th City Pastor Mike Bare, who
describes the club as a ministry and not a church.
City officials have been in contact with
Bare for more than a year about the zoning issue, according
to Belmont Planner Elson Baldwin.
"We certainly realize the need for this
type of organization in the city," Baldwin said.
"We don’t have a problem with the use (of the
Safety issues also prompted the city to
close the building, Baldwin said, such as properly marked
exits and occupancy issues. As many as 100 teen-agers
visited the building on Friday and Saturday nights.
"I told Belmont I’d do whatever
needed to be done to this building," Bare said.
"Anything within reason, we’d do it."
limited funds could cause a problem. The ministry needs
financial support and has never been able to break even,
which only complicates the issue, according to Bare.
Bare could continue to use the building if
the city agrees to rezone the land. But with a moratorium on
such issues in effect until March, Bare’s only option will
be asking City Council to exempt him from the moratorium.
Though not out of the ordinary during a moratorium period,
the outcome of such a move remains unclear, Baldwin said.
"To be honest, I can’t say," he
Bare plans to address City Council at its
Nov. 5 meeting.
If that doesn’t work, Bare said he’ll
have no choice but to move his ministry. He already has
begun looking for other suitable buildings throughout Gaston
County, he said. The ministry doesn’t have the luxury of
being able to wait much longer, Bare said.
"They’re going to have to tell me
now," he said. "If the town of Belmont is
interested in something for their youth, all they have to do
is have a meeting and waive the moratorium."
Council members would be willing to listen
to what Bare has to say, though there would be no
guarantees, according to Councilwoman Jane Ray.
Ray hasn’t discussed the matter with Bare
or other council members, she said.
"We’re willing to listen as a body
and hear all concerns whether it be for or against,"
Ray said. "I would want to hear legal opinions as to if
we did consider waiving the moratorium in this case."
In the meantime, the 7th City Web site urged
teens and other supporters of the ministry to send e-mail to
Belmont leaders to voice opposition to the city’s decision
to close the building.
Josh Carpenter, 18, whose band Eyes Wide
Open played regularly at the club, said closing 7th City
could lead to trouble for area teens.
"They need a Christian atmosphere for
teen-agers to come together," he said. "Just a
place to hang out instead of going to a party to get in
The lack of a place with such an atmosphere
leaves teens with few options, he said.
"That’s the thing. We can either go
out with our friends, go watch a move, go to a football game
or go to a party and get in trouble," he said. "I
say we’ve got to find another Christian nightclub."
Bare also has the support of local pastors
"I’m worried about where the kids
will go. It’s really the only place in town," said
Noel Sweezy, pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.
"I’m a little uneasy, a little frustrated that it’s
going to be closed."
About six to eight students from Sweezy’s
church would attend 7th City each week. Sweezy sees the
situation as perhaps a blessing in disguise.
"They’d like to stay there, but their
ministry has outgrown the space," he said. "It’s
both a curse in that sense, but it’s a blessing in that
it’s pushing all of us to make this a priority."
When 7th City began last year, Sweezy had
been looking for a positive environment for Belmont’s
"We count it as part of our ministry.
It supplements our ministry," he said. "We love
them over there and the kids love it."
Mike and Debbie Smith have been supporters
of 7th City from the beginning. Their 15-year-old son Jason
was a regular patron.
"We knew we could drop him off there
and he could enjoy good fellowship. They have such a witness
there," Debbie Smith said. "I can’t say enough
good things about it."
When word came it would be closing,
"our hearts were just broken," Smith said.
"We still support them," she said.
"When they get an opportunity to open the doors,
we’ll be right there again."
With the support of others, Bare sees the
light at the end of the tunnel.
"If Belmont will show signs of working
with me, we can keep this ministry here," he said.
"And we’ll be right here in Belmont for Belmont’s
You can reach Jason Foster at (704)