By CRAIG MILLAR
RALEIGH – Mayor Nancy McFarlane announced at a press conference that the City planned on approving a rezoning request from Hayes Barton Baptist Church to demolish six houses on White Oak Road, along with most Five Points-area businesses and Underwood Elementary just to the south of the iconic church to provide more parking for its members. The controversial move comes a few weeks after the church first floated the idea of razing the six houses, resulting in a “Save Six” grassroots movement from the surrounding neighborhoods.
David Hailey, pastor of Hayes Barton Baptist Church, says tearing down the houses will benefit the business and residential neighbors. “It’s only logical that bulldozing that eyesore of a theater and that dilapidated public school will bring even more of a benefit. Because, frankly, those houses and businesses are keeping people from knowing Jesus. And if certain neighbors don’t keep their mouths shut, their little bungalows might be next,” said Hailey.
Parking has long been an issue at HBBC, as it is for many landlocked ITB churches. The church, known and beloved for its Easter services and its living manger scene at Christmas, owns the six houses it plans to demolish on White Oak and has asked the City to condemn most of Five Points. If the plan meets full Council approval, glass skyways will be installed to allow parishioners to cross from the newly created parking lots over Glenwood Avenue and West Whitaker Mill Road to the church.
“I mean, just how many antique stores and desserteries does one area need?” posited Amy-Louise Buncombe, a church member since 2014. “Shop at Amazon and Costco like everyone else.”
Phase Two, which hinges on the initial plan being passed, would involve underground trains to the church and likely involve bulldozing most of the Hayes Barton neighborhood to the west and “possibly White Memorial, just for fun,” according to one church member.
In defiance of the massive outcry from neighbors over the planned razing of the six houses, along with the planned razing of anything not parkable around the church, Hayes Barton Baptist deacons began handing out “WWJP” bracelets at Sunday services. The bracelets, which stand for “Where Would Jesus Park?” have become a popular item for church members looking to voice their frustration with their plight.
“We’re not going to take this lying down,” said Dilwood Ashe, a longtime member of HBBC. Asked about “WWJD,” he answered, “As far as WWJD – What Would Jesus Drive – well, if he went to Hayes Barton Baptist, which he would, he’d drive a Tahoe and he’d park on one of our seven glorious parking lots.”
Pressed about other options to ease parking – like offering more than just one Sunday service – Ashe replied, “That’s insane.”