Residents turned out in large numbers for last night's Trinity Park Neighborhood Association meeting, primarily it seems to hear more about this year's particularly brutal tree-pruning cycle in the 'hood. (Hey, it's Trinity Park. You don't mess with this neighborhood's street canopy.)
But first, they ended up hearing an intriguing proposal from local beer-crafter Sean Wilson to transform the Trinity Community Church at the corner of Lamond and Gregson -- on the very border between the neighborhood and the Brightleaf district just a couple of blocks down.
Wilson, a Duke grad, current Chatham County resident, and fifteen-year resident of the Triangle, gained some notoriety a couple of years back as one of the leaders behind the Pop the Cap movement, which succeeded in raising North Carolina's alcohol-by-volume limit on beer in the state from a blue-law-loving 6% to a more tolerable 15%, opening up our good state to the world of many gourmet brews. (Learn more at the Pop the Cap web site, or this Indy Weekly article.)
And this may not be Wilson's only foray into transitioning from advocating for good beer to selling it. He apparently controls the web domain www.bigbrewery.com, which in some web skullduggery looks linked to a similar brew-pub/dining venture down in his home county of Chatham.
But back to Durham here. Wilson noted that the church has been on the market for some time, with little success in the current pastor finding another congregation to take over the beautiful house of worship across from the Durham School of the Arts. Wilson noted that there had been some interest from other developers in transforming the approximately 5,000 sq. ft. church into residential units (an adaptive re-use that's common in some larger cities), and claimed his desired re-use was advantageous since it would preserve the sanctuary relatively intact in case the facility ever converted back to worship use in future years.
Wilson proposes a seven-barrel brewery for on-premises consumption only (as opposed to a brew plant like Holly Springs' Carolina Brewery, which would require an industrial zoning.) The remainder of the concept, however, is still open to some interpretation. Wilson noted he was considering a restaurant concept around a Belgian or farmhouse theme, both of which would go well with both the church architecture and your favorite beer. Intriguingly, a second possibility would be to de-emphasize the dining and turn it into a brewpub-theater that could show classic or arthouse films or host music performances. Even with the entertainment possibilities, Wilson projects closing at 10pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
Besides the gorgeous edifice looking out over Gregson St., the church extends for several lots along Lamond, all the way to the corner of Lamond and Albemarle. It's hear that the plot thickens in new ways. Due to asbestos issues and a less flexible architecture, Wilson and his team are contemplating tear-down of the 1950s/1970s classroom building at the rear of the sanctuary, which in theory seems to me would provide ample parking (when combined with the rest of the property, which is currently an open surface lot that could hold 76 cars alone) for a popular brew-pub.
The rub is, Wilson's considering developing (or selling for development) that open land for condominiums or townhouses. Given the current and ongoing matter of the Chancellory at Trinity Park project just a couple of blocks down Lamond, that idea seemed to elicit the kind of reaction you might expect from the assembled crowd.)
To move forward with this project, however, Wilson and his partners will have to go through a zoning change for the property. Wilson has proposed a CN -- Commercial Neighborhood -- designation for the church, which would allow limited-scope commercial activity intended to blend with residential areas.
Does this seem an idea likely to get broad community support? I suspect that most folks wouldn't object to the idea of a one-time church becoming a brewery -- after all, people who choose to live in Trinity Park and our fellow urban neighborhoods tend to lean towards the progressive side of life, while honoring old architecture at the same time. I think the bigger question is, will this church on this lot be an appropriate place for this little expression of modernity?
A big problem with the location is accessibility. It's a short walk from Brightleaf Square and is just steps from Morgan Street, but if you're driving, you can't drive north on Gregson -- which means more traffic on Albemarle and Lamond, or on Duke and Trinity to do the big 'round the block. Given the tumult over having an extended-stay hotel and a condo project only blocks away from this site, any developer is going to be walking through a pit of fire in trying to make changes to this property.
At the same time, noise seems likely to be a big question from neighbors. A brewery and restaurant adds its own set of noise; a theater screen, and especially music performances, would add an entirely different category.
Personally, I'd love to see something like this in the Brightleaf/downtown area -- Durham's the land of fine dining, but stands far short of having the kind of entertainment activities you'd expect to go with it. The devil's in the details, as they say, and I for one would like to see a thoughtful plan for managing traffic and parking before raising a pint to toast this concept.