Although the Norfolk Planning Commission recently gave Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church the green light to raze three structures in historic Ghent, the church at 560 Olney Road still needs for its $15 million expansion plan a special exception permit for the expansion of a non-conforming structure.
The commission will hear the special exception application at its May 26, 2:30 p.m., public hearing on the 10th floor of the City Hall building and send its subsequent recommendation to the Norfolk City Council for a final decision.
City staff recommends that the aplication be denied.
On May 12, the seven-member commission unanimously approved the church’s request for the demolition of Lloyd Hall on Boissevain Avenue, the demolition of the Guild House on Stockley Gardens and the construction of a Guild House replica on the site of an adjacent 10-unit apartment complex. Two weeks earlier, it had approved the demolition of the apartment complex that is owned by CSL Apartments Inc., the church’s foundation.
All three buildings currently are in use and, with the exception of a citation for the Guild House’s peeling paint, have no known codes violations.
Lloyd Hall is named after the Rt. Rev. Arthur Selden Lloyd and has been part of the church’s history for more than 50 years. The Guild House, also known as the Beehive, served as the church’s rectory, is older than the adjacent church sanctuary and was designated a contributing structure to the North Ghent National Register of Historic Places District.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “contributing structures” are buildings or structures in a historic district that have historic, architectural, cultural or archeological significance.”
The Planning Commission decided to allow the demolition of the Guild House after presentations were made by attorney Howard Martin, Jim Bickford, chairman of the church’s building committee, and architect Barry Moss, a member of the Norfolk Design Review Committee that had opposed the demolition in an earlier, 3:2 vote.
Also opposing the demolition was the Norfolk Planning Department which, in its report, noted that the Guild House
– is not so far deteriorated that its rehabilitation is beyond reason;
– is a contributing structure to the local ordinance historic distrct and as such maintains a prominent feature in a high profile district;
– could be adaptively utlized for church and other acivities;
– is unique to the district and neighborhood, in its historical and architectural context; and
retains the streetscape, rhythm of the built environment and a high corner profile.
According to the city’s Web site, “Staff reviews each application and makes a recommendation to the City Planning Commission as to whether or not the request is consistent with plans or policies of the City of Norfolk.”
Church representatives claimed that the Guild House is beyond repair. The report of a church consultant notes that “a number of structural issues… make it economically infeasible to repair and renovate the existing facility for use as offices or classrooms.”
The Norfolk Zoning Ordinance for Ghent’s historic districts does not consider planned or other uses as a factor in evaluating demolition requests for historically significant structures; instead, the legal standard is whether rehabilitation of such structures is economically and physically infeasible.
This point was made during the commission’s May 12 public hearing by members of the Ghent Neighborhood League, including its president BarBara Murphy, and the Norfolk Preservation Alliance, including its president Mark Pereault, who urged the commission to evaluate the church’s applications against applicable city law. The league’s board has expressed its concerns over church’s expansion plan since 2002 and opposes it in its current form.
Speaking for the church’s expansion were Ghent developer and church member Buddy Gadams and Lee Green, co-founder of the N.E.S.T. program for the homeless in which Christ and St. Luke’s participates.
Four days after the commission hearing, Jim Bickford, accompanied by Christ and St. Luke congregation members, presented the church’s slightly modified expansion plan during the Ghent Neighborhood League’s annual meeting. Under the plan, the earlier proposed modern glass-and-stone addition is to be reduced in size by 6,000 square feet to about 22,000 square feet, and a replica of the Guild House is to be built on the corner, rather than on the side, of the to-be-demolished apartment complex site. The church also is considering whether to put up to 35 underground parking spaces under the proposed three-story addition.
League members expressed their concerns over the loss of a historic structure, the loss of the apartment complex as a taxable property, increased parking problems as a result of the proposed addition’s capacity for about 300 people and concerns over the addition’s modernistic design.
When asked why the church does not sell the Guild House as a private residence and build the addition on the adjacent apartment complex site, Bickford said it would be inconvenient for the church members to cross Boissevain Avenue and cheaper to extend heating and cooling lines directly from the sanctuary to the addition.