Wake County

Raleigh church will regroup about parking lot plan after 'intense' community meeting

From safety and traffic to stormwater runoff and historical integrity, Five Points neighbors aired a number of reasons Monday night why they oppose Hayes Barton Baptist Church's plan to tear down six historic homes to add a church parking lot.

Yet what bubbled up during the nearly two-hour-long session between the more than 200 neighbors, church supporters and community members were not only concrete concerns but also issues of fairness and sacrifice.

"This has been pretty intense," said church pastor David Hailey. "We need to regroup and cool down and give some thought to what has been said."

The church, tucked into the corner of Whitaker Mill Road and Glenwood Avenue, has wanted to add parking for a long time to make it easier to drop off children at the church preschool and to help less-mobile church members reach the sanctuary, Hailey said.

During a long-range capital planning process, the church looked at demolishing six houses it owns along White Oak Road to add more than 70 parking spaces. Five of those homes — 1810, 1812, 1814, 1816 and 1818 White Oak Road — have been rented out by the church, some for decades. The sixth, 1806 White Oak Road, was purchased this month. All of the homes except for the one right behind the church are considered contributing structures to the Bloomsbury Historic District, which was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Hailey outlined this history, along with Mary Beth Johnston, and talked about the church's contributions to the greater community during a 20-minute presentation. They came, both Hailey and Johnston said, to listen, understand and better learn about the concerns of the neighborhood.

The church presentation was followed by Jennifer Williams and Adam Mitchell, representing Save Six, a group of neighbors who have rallied around the effort to save the six homes and preserve the neighborhood.

"I think this was successful because everyone showed up, and I feel like we were here with open hearts," Williams said. "And it's my hope that their needs can be met without destroying the landscape of our neighborhood. And I think we both need to be willing to compromise. And I think this was the first step toward that."

After the presentations, people were given an opportunity to ask questions about the proposed plan and, in some cases, vent frustrations. Several wore Save Six name tags, and Save Six yard signs were available for purchase before and after the meeting.

"These six houses are irreplaceable architectural treasures," said Matthew Brown. "They will be destroyed and forever be a stain on the legacy of Hayes Barton Baptist Church. And years from now your future congregants will regret this horrible act, but there's nothing they can do about."

William Dodge, of architecture planning company Hanbury, once lived in the house at 1814 White Oak Road and said he became passionate about architecture because of that home. He offered to help the church find a solution that saved the homes.

"I don't think it needs to be adversarial," he said. "There are a thousand options to solve this issue and maybe only a handful of them are good, but they need to be looked at. (There's) a variety of different options to find that creative solution to a complex problem."

Several people, who didn't give their names, asked whether the church could move to multiple services on Sunday or look at remote campuses to cut down on the need for parking. These were options, Hailey and Johnston said, that the church has considered and decided against it to not divide its congregation.

Others asked whether the homes could be moved or whether the majority of them could be saved with only one or two demolished.

Toward the end of the meeting, a handful of church members invited the neighbors to attend their church and get to know them better before making a judgment about their plans.

"Your love for your community is the love we have for our church," said Edward Walker. "And you are blocking us from trying to reach out to a community, and we are being vilified because we want to expand our church. That's not fair."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer