Baptist church and its neighbors reach a good-faith compromise on parking and historic homes

Hayes Barton Baptist Church and residents of the surrounding neighborhood have agreed to a compromise: The church will remove some historic homes to make way for parking, but leave others standing for use as affordable housing.

The plan came out of discussions launched when the church announced plans last year to demolish all six of the historic homes it had strategically purchased over several decades along White Oak Road.

Under the new plan, agreed to by a neighbors’ group and Hayes Barton Baptist on Monday night, the church will remove the three houses closest to the church, giving it room to add an entrance to the rear of the church for handicap accessibility and ease of pickup and drop-off for the church preschool. It also will allow for a driveway from the parking area onto White Oak Road, easing pressure on the entrance from Whitaker Mill Road.

Details of how the houses will be removed have not yet been set, said David Hailey, pastor of the church. He said the church has heard from some real estate agents interested in moving the structures, and from others who would help remove architectural elements from them for reuse.

Vernon Hunter, who has helped represent the neighborhood in discussions with the church, said the talks resulted in a memorandum of understanding both sides could live with.

“It’s not us-versus-them anymore,” Hunter said Tuesday by phone. He added later, “This started out as a rancorous fight,” but ended with both sides giving and receiving major concessions. Most important, he said, is that the good faith discussions will allow a strong relationship going forward.

A copy of the agreement was not immediately available, but according to the Facebook page for “Save Six,” a neighborhood group that formed to fight the church’s original plan, the agreement says:

The church will demolish the homes at 1806, 1810 and 1812 White Oak Road to allow for an expansion of the church parking lot. The church will place landscaping between the road and the parking lot to serve as a visual buffer.

The other three homes owned by the church, at 1814, 1816 and 1818 White Oak Road, will remain for at least 10 years, and the church will work with the neighborhood to use them to provide affordable housing.

The new parking entrance at White Oak Road will be gated to restrict traffic flow. The entrance will be used only for Sunday and Wednesday services and other major events in the church such as weddings, funerals and school activities.

The church will regulate the flow of traffic through the White Oak Road exit after Sunday worship services and will join neighbors’ efforts to calm traffic on White Oak Road with speed bumps and signs.

Hailey said last year that he and other church leaders were surprised that neighbors were upset by the original plan, because the church had been acquiring the homes for years with the intention of using the collective three-quarters of an acre they occupied for future growth if needed. But he said at the time the church wanted to be a good neighbor and would revisit the project plans.

All the homes are more than 90 years old and were included in the Bloomsbury Historic District when the neighborhood was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The National Register entry briefly describes the 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.

At the time the church announced plans to demolish the homes, all were renter-occupied. Hailey said last year that the church had had mixed success with renters and had issues at times with noise complaints and maintenance problems.

Now, Hailey said, the church is excited about using the homes in a new affordable housing ministry that would include working with neighbors to welcome families who live in the homes. Hailey said it will take awhile to work out the details, but the church has been looking at other faith-based housing models locally. Hailey said he does not expect anything to happen to any of the houses for about a year.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.