Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Historic Preservation Tuesday: Demolition of church in Federal Hill Baltimore versus more interesting alternatives

Apparently a church was demolished last month in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood.  It will be replaced by three rowhouses.

Obviously, the problem of how to re-use vacant urban churches continues.  And it isn't merely a problem in the US ("Europe's Empty Churches Go on Sale," Wall Street Journal).

Many churches were created to support specific demographic groups most often in tight geographical proximity and as those communities disperse, those churches typically begin a long slow decline as the congregation continues to shrink.

This is accentuated by changes in the nature of worship and new types of churches, not traditional mainline congregations, that people are choosing to join now, which I wrote about here, "Sunday morning: Churches, religion, community and change."

A couple years ago a Baltimore blog, bmoremedia, wrote about the issue of reuse, in "Developers find new uses for sacred spaces."
Although the examples are mostly of creating offices.   DC has similar examples, including the conversion of a church to housing on Capitol Hill.

An out of the box example is the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh where a church has been converted to a decent brew pub.

That example so concerned the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that when they closed a number of churches, they put restrictions in the deeds of sale to prevent such creations.

It happens that recently while on vacation, we stayed in a building, the Sanctuary Place Inn, that had once been a church.

It is now set up as three different vacation rental units. It's located a couple blocks from Forsyth Park in Savannah's Old Historic District and the space was pretty incredible.  An incomparable experience.

That kind of use is "unique" and helps to extend the variety of accommodations and service options in a place.

On the other hand, it's faster to build and sell and reap the profits of selling three rowhouses in a popular neighborhood experiencing rising property values. Especially when you don't have a bevy of experienced developers who are experienced and ready to take on such projects.

Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh.  Image source.

Portland is fortunate to have the McMenamins group, which doesn't have any church projects under their belt, but many examples of adaptive reuse of institutional facilities (schools, hospitals, etc.) and continued operation of theaters by adding food and beverage service and brew pubs.

Their re-do of the Kennedy School into a bed and breakfast and pub was one of their earlier and best known examples.  They riff quite a bit on the former use.  From their website:
Remember when the worst thing you could imagine was being kept after class? My, how things have changed! At Kennedy School, you'll never want to leave. Here you can have a pint in a classroom, enjoy an aged whiskey and a cigar in detention, enjoy a movie in the old auditorium.... The possibilities here are endless.
Historic Preservation Protections help save buildings, but don't usually support broader uses.

In a historic district like in Savannah or Washington, DC, because of the local preservation laws, it would be very difficult to demolish buildings of any sort, including churches, even if the church use is no longer active.

But because most "residential" historic districts are zoned for residential uses exclusively, it becomes very difficult to adaptively reuse a building for non-residential uses. That is the case in DC, where boutique inns are not considered a matter of right use in residential zones.

V&J Duncan Antique Maps is located on Monterey Square in Savannah, and has been written up in the New York Times.  The Duncans live in the grand house above the store.

Savannah is different. I don't know all the ins and outs, but they have liberal commercial use approval built into the code for the historic district so that commercial uses like renting out units, for traditional rental, or vacation rentals, having commercial uses in your "home" such as a bookstore, is legal, provided people meet the various building and other relevant regulations regarding the use.

For example, vacation rentals are legal, but the accommodations must be licensed, pay local hotel taxes, etc.

"Home-based business" regulations need to be considered in the context of the "new economy" where single use buildings become increasingly difficult to pay for as income declines.

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