After drawing more opposition than it expected, Horne Memorial United Methodist Church has withdrawn its request to rezone a historic house near its landlocked campus.
Though it was seeking a zoning change, the church had not decided how it planned to use the .22 acres it owns next to its sanctuary and education buildings. The church’s former parsonage, a century-old structure, stands on the lot.
Neighbors and the Clayton Downtown Development Association opposed the rezoning from residential to office and institutional use, saying it wasn’t consistent with the neighborhood that surrounds the church.
After hearing the complaints, the church pulled its application on March 20, a few days before the town’s Planning Board was set to hear the request.
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“It is an understatement to say we clearly underestimated the objections this request would generate from our neighbors, and without definite plans, it is difficult to address those concerns,” church trustee Bobby Parker wrote in an email to the town. “As a result, we have decided we should delay further action on rezoning ... until we have more definitive plans for this property that we can discuss with both our neighbors and the town.”
Though it had not settled on a use for the land or the old house, the church, in its rezoning application, said it lacked space for offices and parking.
That ambiguity led some neighbors to worry that the church would raze the old house, which dates back to the early 1900s.
The Clayton Downtown Development Association was also worried about losing the house and changing the character of the neighborhood.
The former parsonage is listed as a “contributing structure” to the Clayton Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is one of nearly 300 contributing buildings in the historic district, which is bounded by Mulberry, West Barnes, Mill, Lombard and Blanche streets.
In a letter to town leaders on March 9, Clayton DDA Vice President Paul Black said preserving the compactness and connectivity of neighborhoods in a historic area is just as important as preserving buildings.
“Rezoning this part of the block to (office and institutional use) would be counter to Clayton’s character and the vision to retain its ‘small town charm,” Black said in the letter.
Black said surrounding land uses have been residential since the town was first developed.
“A change to a more commercial/non-residential use of those properties would surely have a negative impact on the character of that neighborhood,” he said.
While other towns often adopt restrictive ordinances for their historic areas, the Town of Clayton has no special rules governing its district.
Porter Casey, president of the Clayton Historical Association, said he’d like to see local residents and town officials come together to form some sort of historic commission. Casey said he doesn’t think the commission would have to be extremely restrictive, but one that could strive to protect historic properties.
“If those buildings start getting demolished or are not preserved, it does an injustice to the historical district itself,” Casey said.
Horne Memorial UMC operates in several buildings at the corner of Church and Second streets. In its current state, the church is landlocked and has used almost every square inch of its less than one-acre property.
The church bought the two lots south of its main campus in 2013 to prepare for growth. While Horne withdrew its request to rezone those tracts, the church is still seeking to reclassify its main campus from residential to office and institutional use.
Rezoning its main campus will allow the church to combine the three current parcels on its block into one. Office and institutional use might be more appropriate for the campus, because that zoning classification allows church sanctuaries and offices. The church has historically operated under the residential zoning with a conditional-use permit.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104.