Raleigh church plans to tear down historic homes and put up a parking lot

Hayes Barton Baptist Church wants to level a half-dozen homes in a National Register historic district in Raleigh to build a parking lot, but critics say the plan doesn’t show much love for the church’s neighbors.

“It sort of makes you think about the Golden Rule,” said Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina. “I would ask the minister if he wants a parking lot across the street from his home, and we know what the answer to that is.”

Pastor David Hailey said a committee has been working on a long-range capital improvement plan for about a year that includes the addition of more than 70 parking spaces for the church, which towers over the Five Points intersection. The church sits between White Oak and Whitaker Mill roads, and currently has parking for about 170 cars.

During the week, Hailey said, people who live, work, dine or shop in tightly-packed Five Points often park in the church’s lot. On Sundays, businesses return the favor, allowing some of the 500 to 600 regular worshipers who attend the 11 a.m. service to park in their lots. Others park on side streets.

The church has wanted to add parking for a long while, Hailey said, to make it easier for the parents of children at the church preschool to drop off and pick up their children, and to shorten the distance that less-mobile church members have to walk to reach the sanctuary. The lot also would benefit the neighborhood, Hailey said, because when services are not being held, the church would continue to allow others to park there.

But to build it, the church plans to demolish a row of six houses that stand along White Oak Road. Five of the houses — 1810, 1812, 1814, 1816 and 1818 White Oak Road — have belonged to the church since 1960, according to Wake County property tax records. The sixth house, at 1806 White Oak Road, directly behind the church, Hayes Barton just closed on on Monday.

All the houses were built between 1920 and 1925 and together occupy less than three-quarters of an acre of land. Their total appraised value is more than $3 million.

The houses date to a time when, according to the church’s history, “The streetcar tracks came down Glenwood Avenue and went all the way to Bloomsbury Park, and lots were being sold in the area called ‘Hayes Barton.’” In 1922, the history says, the Baptist City Council of Raleigh, a forerunner to the Raleigh Baptist Association, bought property for a new Baptist church in anticipation of the city’s northerly growth.

Organizing members held their first worship service in a temporary structure on the site on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1926, the history says. The area grew rapidly and so did the church.

Rental properties

When the church acquired the first houses along White Oak Road, Hailey said, it had no immediate plans for them. Hailey, who came to Hayes Barton in 1996, figures the elders just wanted to be sure the church could continue to expand if necessary.

Over the years, the church has operated the houses as rental properties, with mixed success, Hailey said.

“Some years the rental income has exceeded the operating expenses,” he said. Other years, it hasn’t.

Occasionally, the pastor said, the church has had to deal with complaints from neighbors about upkeep on the houses or loud parties held by their occupants. In recent years, the church had used a management company to handle the rentals.

“Our forebears bought those for some future purpose, whatever that might be,” he said. “We feel like the future has arrived.

“We are not in the house-rental business,” he said. “There was never an intention to buy the houses and keep them in perpetuity.”

When the church acquired the first five houses, the oldest ones had been standing about 40 years. Now, they range from 93 to 98 years old, and they were included in the Bloomsbury Historic District when that was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The National Register entry on the district briefly describes all six houses and says all but one retain enough of their original design and materials to qualify as “contributing” to the historic character of the district.

Their inclusion on the National Register would not protect the houses from demolition.

The city of Raleigh has not received a plan on the parking lot, so city planners could not comment on it Wednesday.

That’s because the church planning committee just presented the proposal to the congregation on Sunday night, and it hasn’t yet held an official meeting of the church to approve the plans. But a couple of church members volunteered to go around the neighborhood this week to hand out an eight-page color brochure describing the capital improvement plan, including the parking lot idea.

All six homes are now occupied.

“I work out of my home, and my window faces two of the properties that are going to be knocked down,” said Bob Crone, who lives at 1811 White Oak. Crone, who works in public affairs, said he was shocked that the first he had heard of the plan was from two church members knocking on his door Monday.

“They make it sound like it’s a done deal,” he said. “And in the back of my mind, I’m just thinking something isn’t quite right.”

A hot topic

Since the church members visited, Crone said, the demolition plan has been a hot topic on the neighborhood’s “Nextdoor” site, where residents share information online.

It also has come up on the Olde Raleigh Facebook page.

Hailey said no specific timeline has been set for the demolition, but the church hopes to launch its capital improvement projects sometime in the next calendar year.

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin