UPDATE: Church of the Beatitudes Redevelopment

Church of the Beatitudes Redevelopment Update:

The developer has committed to reuse the sanctuary portion of the Church of the Beatitudes facility and transform it into a single-family home. The other three lots will be redeveloped into new homes that have been designed to fit into the character of the neighborhood. The developer has also committed to file a new application for Local Historic Landmark status for the building and take other steps to assure CHNA and its residents that the structure will be saved. The Church played a significant role in this compromise, and lowered the purchase price a substantial amount to ensure that the project would be financially viable for JMS. The CHNA Board has withdrawn our application for Local Historic Landmark status based on certain written assurances received from the developer.

CHNA understands that the best outcome for our neighborhood would have been to find a way for the existing congregation to continue to operate the facility or for another buyer to use the facility as a church or community center. The CHNA Board, members of our community, and the local historic preservation group Preserve the ‘Burg worked hard to find another buyer or a partnership with an existing school/church/community group to find another solution. Ultimately, these efforts were not successful. While many groups did express an interest in a potential partnership or purchase, none were able to meet the Church’s needs for a purchase offer or financial commitment within the time period available. No one is happy about the loss of the facility building, but it is my hope that by preserving the sanctuary, the most historic part of the structure, the character and charm of our neighborhood will in part remain, and that it will be a reminder of our history. The CHNA Board felt that, ultimately, saving this piece of history was preferred to saving no part of the building, and this compromise is supported by the CHNA Board, Preserve the ‘Burg, and the City’s Department of Urban Planning and Historic Preservation as a way to make the best of a situation with no easy solution. It is my hope that we will be able to also have your support for this compromise, but I understand that no decision or outcome will have universal support.

Please feel free to email president@mychna.org with your questions and I will be happy to respond. Here are a few questions that I recently received:

1. Why didn’t the Church inform the neighborhood of their financial difficulties sooner?

We have learned that the Church’s financial situation arose quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Several of its largest donors passed away at the end of last year, and another funding source was unexpectedly lost. Thus, the Church was forced to take immediate and very unwanted action. The loss of the facility is keenly felt by the congregation and the Church’s Board, and they very much did not want to have to sell the facility.

2. Did the compromise cost CHNA any money?

The Board initially agreed to apply for and pay for some minor variances that would allow the sanctuary to be more easily be reused. However, the developer was able to work with the City on the plans so that no variances were needed. Therefore, NO CHNA FUNDS have been used on this project. The initial application fee for CHNA’s local historic landmark designation was donated, no other funds are needed, and all of the effort has been the truly countless number of volunteer hours that the Board and others have poured into this effort.

3. Can we trust that the developer will not demo the sanctuary?

The developer has made written promises to both CHNA and the Church to save the sanctuary building, and the City has taken steps within its internal systems to ensure things move forward smoothly. The City has added a note to its system that requires a manual release from an individual in the Department of Urban Planning and Historic Preservation should a demo permit be requested (at which time CHNA would be notified and we can refile). Additionally, the developer has agreed to request to add the sanctuary portion of the property to a list of eligible landmark buildings maintained by the City, which would require a 30 day advanced notice period before a demo permit could be requested. Finally, the developer has committed to working with Preserve the ‘Burg to file a new owner-requested application for Local Historic Landmark status immediately following closing and permit review. The other two actions should function to protect the building until the new application is filed, and from there no demo permit can be issued without special City approval (i.e. The CPPC committee would have to approve the demolition because the structure can’t be reasonably saved, etc.).

4. Will the new single-family home still be historic?

The developer plans to apply for the Local Historic Landmark designation in advance of beginning construction (with the exception of demo of the two additions). This means that any major changes to the exterior of the structure will require review and approval by the City. The developer also plans to retain most of the interior ceiling beams (excepting some rework required by the existing air conditioning system), the wood floors, and the most intricate stained glass windows. It looks to be a pretty neat home, and the developer has offered to hold a special open house for CHNA residents before final sale.

5. Why did CHNA withdraw the application?

Why not keep it on file and let the City decide? The City’s Department of Urban Planning and Historic Preservation and Preserve the ‘Burg have both provided input that strongly suggested that an application with owner objection would not successfully be approved by City Counsel. There have been other structures in St. Petersburg that are generally considered to be more historic than the sanctuary, and in those similar past cases Counsel has sided with the owner and denied the application. By removing the CHNA application, this allows the developer to close the sale and request that the sanctuary be rezoned as single family. Without this change to the zoning, the building would remain a church and would require a significant amount of parking. Work on the other lots would not be able to begin until June (when City Counsel would hear the application and most likely deny the request). Removing the CHNA application allows for the administrative details to be completely quickly (keeping the project financially viable for the developer), and then the new owner-submitted application can be filed. As explained above, we have some safeguards in place that will allow CHNA to refile if needed. As the old Russian adage warns: Trust, but verify.

Thank you all so much for your support, patience, assistance, etc. during this difficult process. The CHNA Board is comprised of volunteers, all with families, jobs, and other personal situations that often have been put to the side in an attempt to work toward the best possible compromise given the reality of the situation. This project was both unexpected and most unwelcome. At least four Board members have offered to resign at different points in time because it really has been so much and the magnitude of the impact on our neighborhood is understood and felt deeply. Change is never easy and is rarely welcome, but it is my hope that this compromise will help many to find peace with this change and serve as a way for us to move forward while still honoring our past.

Sincerely,

Jen Wright President, CHNA

 

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