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Restaurant owner calls plan to turn historic Virginia church into apartments 'disheartening'

Neighbor: 'This is unaffordable housing that we can't afford to live in'
Park Place.jpg
Posted at 7:38 PM, Apr 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-02 19:41:28-04

NORFOLK, Va. -- The former Park Place Methodist Church has seen better days.

Paint is chipping away. The stained glass windows now have wooden boards behind them. The building is showing its age. It's been at the corner of Colonial Avenue and 34th Street for over 100 years.

Now, the building is on track to become an apartment building.

Last week, the city council voted to approve rezoning the land to allow a Richmond-based development company called Monument to turn the church in 60 apartment units with six townhomes to be built across the street.

"To have this happening is very disappointing," Beverly McDonald said Thursday. McDonald owns the nearby Brickster's 600 restaurant on 35th Street and lives nearby. "This is really the last corridor for African American businesses."

She calls the project gentrification because she believes many of the residents of Park Place will not be able to afford rents at the apartments. "When you have gentrification, there's a slow movement of moving one group out and replacing it with another," she said. "That's just something that seems to be happening more and more."

She's not alone in that opinion. Several people spoke passionately at the city council meeting. "Y'all are allowing them to build in our neighborhoods. This is unaffordable housing that we can't afford to live in," another neighbor said.

Monument says the project is a $14 million investment and 10 percent of the apartments, or six units, will be set aside for more affordable rent.

"We're excited to keep meaningful investment in the city going," Chris Johnson from Monument said.

While the church had disbanded in 2016, people in the neighborhood said they were still using the church for community events like a food pantry. The church's local board of missions representatives said the building had been for sale since 2018 and says they could no longer afford to pay for the church's upkeep.

"While it's not a congregation, it's probably the best use of this property considering the rehabilitation that's going to be needed," Tom Mercer said.

McDonald wishes the city had held out for a developer who had hoped to build an apartment place nearby, but for now that project isn't moving forward.

"It's very disheartening, to say the least. I'm hoping the city council will reconsider," she said.

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