The vacant Second Baptist Church, next to the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond, may be torn down after all.
The head of the planning department said late last year that the owners of the historic church could not demolish it until an application for a certificate of adequacy was filed and reviewed by the city architectural review board.
But now Kevin J. Vonck, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development Review, says a decision made by city council in October 1992 authorizing the demolition still stands today.
The decision angers historic conservators, saying the old church must be preserved because of its classical facade which is of major architectural significance and the city failed to follow proper processes.
“We are shocked and appalled because the city has repeatedly told us that their position is [that a review was needed] and they told us repeatedly for months and as recently as last week,” said Cyane Crump, executive director of Historic Richmond, whose mission is to preserve the historic character of Richmond.
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Crump believes Second Baptist cannot be demolished without first receiving approval from the Commission of Architectural Review because the building is in a historic part of town. But Vonck disagrees.
“We are very concerned that the process has not been followed here,” she said. “This building can be saved.”
Owners of the Jefferson Hotel, which owns the historic church building next to its AAA Five Diamond-listed hotel on West Franklin Street, want to demolish the sanctuary because they say it is structurally unsafe and unsafe. is seriously deteriorated. The church is on the corner of Franklin and Adams streets – across from Adams from the hotel’s main entrance.
After receiving the permit application in late September, Vonck said his department’s rapid initial review led him to believe that a suitability certificate granted more than 29 years ago was not valid given significant period of time.
In 1992, the owners of the Jefferson had sought to demolish the church and an adjoining educational wing. The Architectural Review Board denied this request, but in October 1992 the City Council overruled the city’s Architectural Review Board and declared that the owners could demolish the church.
“What the board approved at the time stands and we know of no legal reason why it shouldn’t,” Richmond businessman William H. Goodwin Jr. said in December. Goodwin is president of Historic Hotels of Richmond, which purchased The Jefferson in 1991.
The initial conclusion, Vonck said on Friday, was that owners should start the process over by filing an application for a certificate of adequacy and then having it reviewed by the city’s architectural review board.
“After further legal analysis, however, the City Attorney’s Office concluded that the 1992 COA [certificate of appropriateness] is still valid and we have therefore lifted the suspension of the demolition permit requested by the applicant,” Vonck said.
The permit will be issued once the applicant has paid the appropriate fees, he said.
Goodwin could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
In December, Goodwin said the building, which the hotel used for storage, had been trying to figure out the best way to use the structure for the past 30 years. But the building of the Second Baptist Church has deteriorated so much that it has now become a security issue.
“On the one hand, I’m sorry. I really am because I like to preserve things and I think I’ve done my part over the years,” he said in December. “But on the other hand, there’s a practical side that eventually you have to get to, which is one of those things where at least I have no problem saying I tried hard. We went through review all the ideas you can come up with, at least all the ones we were able to come up with, and none of them made financial sense or even approached financial sense.
Crump said she fears the owners are moving quickly and could start demolishing the building as early as next week.
At a press conference outside the old church on Friday afternoon, Crump said his organization did not believe the correct process was used to make the decision to issue the permit, saying the owners of the building benefited preferential treatment in the process. She believes that certificates of adequacy expire one year after being granted.
“For conservatives, it has always been an uphill battle between David and Goliath. We had a little slingshot — there is a legal process to review proposed demolitions of buildings in old and historic areas of the city,” Crump said.
“The city took away this slingshot. Why? Goliath’s shadow loomed over City Hall,” she said. “It is indeed ironic that this Goliath – which bears the name Historic Hotels of Richmond LLC – will swap the ‘historic’ name while demolishing one of our best historic architectural resources. Process matters. We cannot enforce rules all David, but give Goliath a free pass.
The organization is urging Richmond residents to contact City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney to intervene so that the permit application is considered by the Architectural Review Board.
“I think public pressure could help the city council pressure the city attorney to follow the rules the city has put in place,” Crump said. “If it is too late for this resource, this pressure that people can exert on the city council and on the mayor and on the administration and the town hall can help save the next resource.”
Historic Richmond has exhausted all of its legal options, she said, but declined to say what those options were.
“We put a lot of effort into this trying to work with the owner first and exploring other alternatives,” she said.
In addition to being concerned that the city is not following the right process, Historic Richmond is concerned about losing a historic resource it calls the best design of its kind in Richmond.
The Second Baptist Church, which opened in 1906, features a columned portico influenced by a Roman temple in France. The building ceased to be used for religious services in 1967.
The structure was inspired by the Maison Carrée, a first-century Roman temple in Nîmes, France, which served as the basis for Thomas Jefferson’s design of the Virginia Capitol building.
The Second Baptist Church was designed by William C. Noland of Noland & Baskervill, then one of Richmond’s prominent architects and founder of the architectural firm now known as Baskervill.