How Five Points residents, an architect and Hayes Barton Baptist Church came together in compromise.
The house at 1814 White Oak Road, a classic-frame craftsman bungalow, is painted white, with hardwood floors, a covered porch and an original decorative fireplace.
Though charming, there’s not much to distinguish it from other historic homes in Raleigh’s old Five Points neighborhood. But for William Dodge, who lived in the home in the ’90s as a teenager with his
educator parents—roaming the streets with neighborhood kids, playing basketball on the church’s parking lot courts—it was the house that made him want to study to become an architect.
Hayes Barton Baptist Church, located at the pinnacle of the Five Points intersection if you’re traveling north on Glenwood from downtown, is one of the best-known buildings in Raleigh. Built in 1926, the sprawling building’s towering spire, its classical columns and beige-toned brick and trim work make it iconic in most residents’ minds.
A little over a year ago, the church’s pastor, Dr. David Hailey, announced plans to tear down six homes, all constructed between 1921 and 1930, that the church owned on adjacent White Oak Road—including 1814—to accommodate its growing membership. The church, which had been renting the homes at affordable prices for decades to students and working class families such as Dodge’s, needed space to build a parking lot in order to better serve senior and disabled congregants and parents dropping off and picking up their young children.
As often happens in Raleigh when the old and less monied are perceived as being forced out to accommodate the new and wealthy—whether it’s property, or people, or both—residents living nearby were indignant. As well as upset over the prospect of losing the historic houses—all are included in the Bloomsbury Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, part of the fabric of a neighborhood that, uniquely for Raleigh’s older districts, has remained intact for over a century—neighbors feared for their children’s safety due to increased traffic that the parking lot could generate on one-way White Oak Road and exacerbated issues with stormwater runoff, an already existing problem.
Tempers flared. Picket signs imploring the church to “Save Six” went up in front yards all over Five Points and beyond.
But what followed wasn’t an acrimonious, drawn-out battle between a powerful parish and a group of principled preservationists, or a rightful property owner and a bunch of NIMBYs, depending on the perspective.
Instead, last month, the neighbors and church leadership reached a compromise, encoded in a memorandum of understanding, that presents a solution to the church’s needs while still seeking to preserve at least three of the houses on White Oak Road. All parties agree that the final master plan is a better one than existed before, both for the church and for the neighborhood.
And there’s a real possibility that all six of the homes could eventually be saved.
A Contentious Beginning
The Five Points CAC meeting was packed on March 21 of last year.
Hailey, who had presented a conceptual framework of the church’s expansion plans to his congregation earlier that month had sent volunteers to knock on neighbors’ doors and pass along the information. This is where the trouble started.
“[The plan] was not presented to us that this was a proposal,” said Jennifer Williams, a White Oak resident and Save Six organizer, at the CAC meeting that night. “It was presented that this was a done deal and that this would be good for us. We could barely react. We were handed a pamphlet that seemed very official and it was like, ‘This is what we’re doing, it’s going to be good for you and will be good for the neighborhood.’”
“The neighbors felt we locked them out,” Hailey says. “And I guess we did lock them out. But it wasn’t malicious. So at the meeting, there was a high level of contention.”
“Serious anxiety and contention,” Dodge adds. “People were yelling at people.”
“The uproar had already begun in the press,” Hailey says, “and we determined when we went to the meeting, we’d tell a little bit of the story. And then, we were just going to listen.”
Though emotions were running high, both church leaders and neighbors insisted they didn’t want an adversarial relationship with one another. And, during the meeting, it became clear that the church was open to taking suggestions. Dodge—who by then hadn’t had anything to do with the church for two decades, though he still had friends in the area and frequented Hayes Barton Café and the Five Points post office—approached Hailey and offered to lend his expertise.
The two sat down together a few weeks later.
“I had just started as one of the partners at a new architecture firm,” Dodge recalls. “My friend is the CEO and I told him, ‘I think I just found the most high-profile, contentious, non-paying project ever. Aren’t you super excited about that?’”
Turns out, he was.
Dodge and his design partner, Jesse Green, at Hanbury—an architecture and planning firm—acted as pro bono outside design advisers in order to help both the neighborhood and the church resolve many of the issues raised in the church’s initial plan. Over several months, Dodge and Green were able to draw up a master plan that gives the church its expanded parking, as well as the accessibility and flexibility it needs, while still preserving three of the homes—1814, 1816 and 1818—onsite.
“We kept going back and forth, like can we try to get by with just two houses being removed,” Dodge says. “But it really needed handicap accessibility parking and that just wouldn’t have given them enough. That was not an easy thing for me to say. I love these houses and am very familiar with them. But we were trying to create a community dynamic between the overall neighborhood and the church and ultimately, this is the best possible solution that could have happened.”
Durham-based landscape architecture firm Surface 678 will install landscaping between White Oak Road and the parking lot and the civil engineering firm WithersRavenel will work with the church in order to realize the master plan while also providing an enhanced but inviting landscape buffer as well as mitigating stormwater issues.
Furthermore, Hayes Barton Baptist Church is exploring ways to create a joint partnership with its neighbors to develop the three homes for affordable housing.
“We want to be a little more intentional,” Hailey says. “We understand that to create a community and a home, you need not only a safe shelter but a welcoming community. We want to partner with the neighborhood in providing that welcoming community. We look at the homes as part of our mission, as part of a ministry strategy.”
But there won’t be any proselytizing, Hailey clarifies. Instead, the church wants and welcomes diversity. He’s looking at the Catholic Church’s “Support Circle” model, where communities support families in acclimating to their new neighborhoods.
Loving Your Neighbor
By most accounts, the Save Six saga is a Raleigh success story. When church and community leaders signed the MOU last month, dozens of neighbors turned out to witness it, bringing their kids, exchanging hugs and posing for group pictures.
“We can’t help but see this as a symbol of community,” said Vernon Hunter, a Five Points resident involved in the negotiations. “Despite our different needs, we were able to come together as neighbors and reach an agreement that works for everyone involved.”
“I applaud the neighbors for coming to the table,” Hailey says. “It was hard for them to think about removing three houses.”
Hailey also applauds Dodge: “He was a bridge to the past and a bridge to the future.”
And Dodge applauds Hailey: “99 percent of people in [his] situation would not care what the neighbors have to say.”
So, the biblical parable is clear: It’s about loving your neighbor.
“It saved three houses but built multiple relationships,” Hailey says. “[Dodge] and I met through this and I promise there will be times in the future when I pick up the phone and call him because we built this friendship. Sometimes, what appears to be your worst experience ends up being your best, because it becomes a pathway. You can’t get to the promised land except through the wilderness.”
“It’s almost been, in a cheesy way, a love story,” Dodge says. “It could not have come together better. It’s funny, this is by far the most time I’ve spent in a church in 30 years. But I grew up in this house, trained as an architect, know nothing about the Baptist church but I go to a meeting, have a conversation and it turns out to be this really cool project that at least saved three houses. Maybe all.”
Indeed, what will become of the other three houses—1806 White Oak Road, another craftsman bungalow, 1810, a Dutch Colonial Revival, and 1812, an American Foursquare?
In the best-case scenario, the church, already raising money to get the plan underway, can partner with someone in real estate with the means to physically move the homes onto vacant lots elsewhere in Five Points, or in Raleigh. It’s been done here before.
“That would be a great outcome,” Hailey says. “We would be delighted to try and make that happen.”
In any event, the Five Points bungalow that inspired an architect—and brought together a community—is here to stay.