In 1884, formerly enslaved people founded a Dallas church called White Rock Chapel. It relocated to Addison in 1918 and remains one of the most historically significant Black churches in northern Texas.
In its current location, the church sits on a 1.2-acre property surrounded by multi-million-dollar homes. After falling into disrepair, the church was bought out of receivership in 2018 by Donald Wesson and his family, who sought to restore the property and create a place of worship for people of all faiths.
As the Wessons began revitalizing the chapel, they faced extreme opposition from the surrounding community. In the hope of appeasing these neighbors, the Wessons agreed to many unconstitutional limitations on the project.
Their efforts were in vain: 186 people signed a petition opposing the special use permit that the chapel needed to operate, and the Addison City Council denied the permit in July 2023.
The Wessons retained a McDermott pro bono litigation team, led by Richard Salgado, to help them secure the permit they needed to operate.
The team successfully represented the chapel in securing its right to continue operations, overcoming the surrounding community’s organized opposition.
McDermott issued the first demand letter to the city of Addison in September 2023. During renewed talks with the city, the pro bono team stripped out all unconstitutional restrictions that had previously been forced upon White Rock Chapel. Then they engaged in months of continued discussions with city staff.
On December 4, 2023, during a special city council meeting that lasted more than four hours, a large group of residents spoke in opposition, citing concerns over noise, increased traffic and property values. James Grossman presented on behalf of White Rock Chapel before the city council.
At the close of the meeting, the special use permit was approved unanimously.
In explaining their changed votes, the city council members acknowledged that they were ultimately duty-bound to follow the United States Constitution. White Rock Chapel’s right to make necessary improvements to continue as a place of worship is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
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