A historic-district church in Cary gets relief from 21st-century planning, for now

Green Level Baptist Church got the relief it was seeking from the Cary Town Council on Thursday, Aug. 9.
Green Level Baptist Church got the relief it was seeking from the Cary Town Council on Thursday, Aug. 9. N&O File Photo

The hearing before the Cary Town Council ended in applause from members of Green Level Baptist Church.

They had come seeking regulatory relief from the town council as Green Level Baptist prepares to build an 18,000-square-foot addition to its education building.

“Green Level is in the heart of a very rapidly growing area,” church member Judy Howell told the town council. “As a result, our children’s areas are bursting at the seams. Therefore, the church has decided to embark on this ambitious renovation plan with our children as our main focal point.”

But the project triggered rules flowing from the Imagine Cary Community Plan — most notably a requirement that the church help widen Green Level Church Road from two lanes to four lanes with an 18-foot-wide median. Members of Green Level estimated their share of that road-widening project at more than $350,000. Just as bad, the right-of-way for the wider road would come right up to the front stoop of the historic sanctuary, built in 1906 and on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001, according to the town and church.

So last week, church members asked the council to reduce the required right-of-way and to not require the church to hand over a $356,000 check, at least not yet.

The council granted both requests, partly because the Imagine Cary Community Plan, the town’s guiding planning document, recognizes the historic significance of Green Level Baptist Church and partly because Cary doesn’t yet know what type of roadway it wants in place of two-lane Green Level Church Road.

Green Level Baptist Church is not only within the Green Level Historic District, it contributes significantly to that district, Cary senior planner Kevin Hales told the town council.

“Several notable examples of Colonial Revival and Gothic Revival architecture can be found in the district, including the church’s sanctuary building,” Hales said. “The sanctuary is a notable example of Gothic Revival architecture, with the pointed arches and steep gables reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals.”

And while the Imagine Cary Community Plan requires the church to widen Green Level Church Road, a four-lane highway with an 18-foot median “may be considered inconsistent with the character of the historic district,” Hales said. “In addition, the right-of-way conflicts with the location of some of the contributing structures within the historic district, including the church’s sanctuary.”

The church asked the town to reduce the right-of-way from 50 feet to 40 feet, which would spare the stoop.

“Full dedication would likely require removal and, or significant reconstruction of the stoop that exists today,” Hales said.

Added Jason Barron, attorney for Green Level Baptist: The church “is essentially dedicating as much right-of-way as they possibly can without impacting the historic structure.”

Fortunately for the congregation at Green Level Baptist, the Imagine Cary plan acknowledges that what’s good for a commercial area of town might not be good for a historic district.

“The Green Level Special Planning Area within the plan was created in recognition of the unique opportunities provided in this area of southwest Cary,” Hales said. “The special planning area includes a note directing that context-sensitive thoroughfare and streetscape designs be used to protect the historic district’s context and historic resources.”

It helped the church too that Cary is a long ways off from widening Green Level Church Road.

An engineering firm is studying the corridor that includes Green Level Church Road, but the first public-input sessions on the road won’t take place until September. Construction of a wider road is likely years away, the council acknowledged.

“There is currently no project in the town’s capital improvement budget for making improvements in this corridor,” Hales added.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack