Close to 30 people crowded into the homey, antique rooms of Mona’s Lebanese Café in Sterling’s Guilford neighborhood last week to talk options in the last-minute effort to save Davis Church.
As the air inside grew warm and close, Joe Wetzel, senior vice president of the Young Group, offered a compromise during the Dec. 30 community meeting. His company, which is purchasing the property and had planned to take down the church and build a self-storage facility, had gone back to the drawing board and come up with a way to save the church’s façade.
“We think we can move the front, basically the first half of the building—we can’t get the whole thing—we get the first half of the building, still on site, and move it down towards the corner of Davis and the entrance,” Wetzel said.
The Young Group’s new plan would allow the developer to both build the self-storage facility and move the face of the church, creating a space for a small event venue or picnic area. The developer and the county would need to sort out those details, but Planning Commissioner Helena Syska (Sterling) said this would mean allowing the event area to the county to maintain.
“It would preserve the most interesting elements of the structure: the bell tower, the front, the entrances,” Wetzel said.
Before the congregation moved, parts of the church were modernized and aluminum siding had been installed. When they left, Wetzel said, the congregation, some of whom were in attendance, took “anything of interest.”
Syska, Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling), and Saines’s chief of staff Matt Leslie all applauded the developer’s efforts to meet them halfway, and reminded attendants that the developers would be within their rights to simply bulldoze the church. Earlier the Planning Commission was told that state officials found the church building to be ineligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places
“It’s not often that I have found applicants that will work with us,” Syska said.
Still, Sterling residents were alarmed to see the development, and many would like to see the church preserved and restored—although where that money would come from remains an open question. Wetzel placed the price for the property at “well over $1 million.”
“It’s too bad,” said Susie Geurin, a fourth-grade teacher and wife of the late School Board member Warren Geurin. “We’re sitting here in this Guilford District, this little area, so full of history, and we had a presidential house here and we let it burn to the ground. … It makes me sad to see that something else of value could go down the drain.”
“We don’t have iconic architecture that you can find in places like Dallas,” Syska said. “We’re not saving all the buildings that we could. … We’re going to regret it someday.”
Saines agreed that he would ask the developers to save the church and convert the building to something else—attendees pitched ideas for a skating rink or a tavern hall—but after a conference call with developers the next morning reported that the Young Group would continue with the compromise plan presented at the meeting.
“The biggest thing that we need to do is take the energy, and the now understanding of everybody in this room of what’s going on, to do something moving forward to keep something like this from happening again,” Leslie said.