Developer Plans to Preserve History while Reshaping Villa Heights Church for the Future

A team of developers plan to transform the historic Parkwood Avenue Associate Reformed Presbyterian (A.R.P.) Church of Villa Heights into apartments while preserving the distinctive church building. Eid Refaey, a real estate developer who has worked in Villa Heights since 2003, currently owns the property, and he is working with Paul Pennell, a landscape architect and civil engineer at Urban Design Partners, to convert the church into a number of apartments, according to Mr. Pennell’s presentation at the Villa Heights Community Meeting on July 9, 2018.

Opened in 1929, the church was designed by Louis Asbury, one of Charlotte’s celebrated pre-World War II architects inspired by Neoclassical and Gothic design. Featuring an impressive use of brick for a 1920s revivalist style and numerous stained-glass windows, the church has been considered Villa Heights’ most distinctive building. It continued to serve as place of worship owned by the A.R.P. until 1968 when the building was purchased for use by the Institutional Christian Methodist Episcopal (C.M.E.) Church. According to a recent historical survey, this transfer in ownership reflected the changing demographics of Villa Heights in the mid-century period as Villa Heights became a growing community for middle-class African American families. Following the construction of a new sanctuary on Tom Hunter Road in 2000, the Parkwood Institutional C.M.E. congregation used the church in Villa Heights as a satellite site until 2015.

According to Mr. Pennell and Mr. Refaey, the church will be transformed into sixteen to twenty residential units, and they intend to alter the exterior of the building as little as possible. At the moment, the anticipated changes to the exterior will primarily be for the sake of meeting the safety and health codes required by the city of buildings zoned for urban residential use. The stained glass windows of the church will removed, but Mr. Refaey intends to commission artists to repurpose the glass for onsite art installations.

The developers also plan to construct three duplexes that will complement the architecture of the historic church. Between the apartment units and duplexes, the developers anticipate twenty-two to twenty-four new residential units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom residences. Accompanying the residential units will be more than fifty parking spaces on the property itself. Mr. Pennell noted that this would be sufficient for future residents of the proposed development and that there would be no need for street parking.

The developers will present their plans and their petition for rezoning to city council on July 18th, and, assuming that all permits are approved, the developers anticipate breaking ground on this project in spring or summer of 2019.

Following the developers’ presentation at the community meeting, Villa Heights community members discussed the plans of Mr. Refaey and Mr. Pennell. While some residents expressed concern for the potential of increased traffic on Allen Street, Grace Street, and Harrill Street, many attending the community meeting appreciated the efforts of Mr. Refaey and Mr. Pennell to preserve the historic edifice. After a short debate, those present at the community meeting voted in favor of drafting a letter of support on behalf of Mr. Refaey and Mr. Pennell’s proposed development.

As residents of Villa Heights see on a daily basis, most residential development projects in the neighborhood have resulted in the leveling of older buildings and the construction of entirely new single-family homes and multistory apartment complexes. If Mr. Refaey and Mr. Pennell are successful in the plan they presented on July 9, the transformation of Parkwood Reformed Presbyterian Church offers an alternative form of development and growth—one that attempts to preserve neighborhood history while continuing to reshape Villa Heights for future residents.

Article by Will Sherman for the VHCO. July 2018. 

*For more information on the history of the church, consult the 2017 survey prepared by Dr. Dan Morrill and Stewart Gray for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission: http://landmarkscommission.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Parkwood-ARP-SR.pdf

For more information on this rezoning petition (2018-060) or to track the status, consult the City of Charlotte Planning, Design, & Development page: http://charlottenc.gov/planning/Rezoning/RezoningPetitions/2018Petitions/Pages/2018-060.aspx

VH Church

Photo courtesy of 2017 Survey and Research Report