Hayes Barton Baptist Faces Backlash Over Planned Parking Lot

Battle over demolishing historic homes has potential to ruin church's reputation with the community

By Brent Woodcox

On Sunday night, Hayes Barton Baptist Church unveiled a plan to demolish six historic homes that sit on its property along White Oak Road. The homes are currently being rented out by a management company that works for the church.

 From the News & Observer...

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 $2 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. ...

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. ...
— Martha Quillin - N&O


Now let me say here at the outset that that the church can do whatever it likes with the property it owns. But that is quite a different question from whether it should go forward with this plan.

The opposition from Five Points residents has been swift and fierce.

By Tuesday morning, there was a raging conversation on Nextdoor. The initial post reporting the church's plan to demolish the homes is up to 76 replies as of this writing. 

Olde Raleigh even got in on the action.

With all the backlash the church is facing you just have to wonder. Is it worth it?

The houses could be sold for $2 million. Would that not help cover the costs of building a parking structure on campus? Is a remote lot with a shuttle service feasible? It seems like the only time the church faces a real parking shortage is during their 11AM Sunday morning service. Could they not just ask people who are capable to park in the surrounding neighborhood streets and walk further so those facing mobility issues and those with young children can park closer to the building?

I live two blocks away from the church and folks are welcome to park in front of my house on Sunday mornings. Heck, y'all can use my driveway. I'll be at another church during that time anyway.

Now there will probably be some folks reading this post thinking, "Hey! I thought this guy was supposed to be a YIMBY. It seems like he's fighting development he doesn't like just like the NIMBYs do."

First, if the church's plan was to use these rentals to provide affordable housing or provide places to live for the homeless, you'd be seeing a lot of NIMBY backlash to that plan. But you wouldn't hear a peep of criticism from me.

Second, YIMBYism doesn't stand for dumb development or growth that is unplanned. YIMBYs support density, urbanism, and smart policies that lead to more housing being built. We also support walkable, transit-friendly development. We don't support building surface parking lots to replace housing. That's not smart development.

Hayes Barton Baptist, while it is a church, is also in this instance acting as a developer. And they are teaching a master class on how to be a bad developer.

Surprise the neighbors with your plans? Check. Seek out zero input from neighbors and the surrounding community? Check. Have no plan in place to respond the inevitable push back from the changes involved in your plans? Check!

FWIW, they're not doing a really great job on the PR front, either.

I mean, your line is that God is calling you to build a second parking lot? I know that God called Kevin Costner to build a baseball field once. But I had no idea that God was in need of so many parking spaces.

Also, you think that being a good steward of what God has given you means knocking down six houses that have stood in the neighborhood since 1920? The houses were there before the church was. How could displacing people to build a parking lot be best for the community, for your church's neighborhood?

Again, certainly the plan to build this parking lot appears to me to be in line with man's law. But does it conform to God's law?

As Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, said in the News & Observer story quoted above, “It sort of makes you think about the Golden Rule. 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.” And as Jesus Christ said in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

So returning to my point above, I am forced to wonder whether this is all worth it? Even if the church has been in this planning process for a year, is within its rights as a property owner, and is in desperate need of additional parking, is it worth the cost? Is it worth damaging the relationship that the church has had with the surrounding neighborhood and literally tearing down part of the community for the sake of convenience?

And I really don't mean this to be a "bash Hayes Barton" post because, for the most part, I do believe the church has been a good neighbor and a valuable part of our community. Not only do they provide a place where people can worship God on Sunday mornings but they also host community events inviting families far beyond their congregation to participate. They run a kitchen out of their building that provides meals to those in need. I really believe that the congregation and the pastors at Hayes Barton Baptist are trying to do good in our neighborhood and in the city at large.

Does a second parking lot really add to God's kingdom here on Earth? Is the best way to be good stewards of what God has provided the church tearing down historic homes? Is it really worth damaging the name of Hayes Barton, Christians in general and God Himself to make sure more cars can be parked closer to the church building?

These are questions I hope the leadership and congregants of Hayes Barton will consider before moving forward with this plan.

Brent Woodcox