Former Highland Park church to become affordable housing

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/16/2018, 7:22 a.m.
A derelict church building on North Side is headed for conversion into 76 apartments. The new apartments would replace the ...
Former Mizpah Presbyterian Church in Highland Park

A derelict church building on North Side is headed for conversion into 76 apartments.

The new apartments would replace the long vacant former Mizpah Presbyterian Church in the 1200 block of East Brookland Park Boulevard near the Six Points intersection in Highland Park.

Richmond City Council approved a special use permit Monday night for the $18 million development. It is the latest project in Richmond for the nonprofit Community Preservation and Development Corp., a 30-year-old affordable housing developer based in Silver Spring, Md. The company also is moving ahead with plans to create more than 200 apartments in the Jackson Ward-Gilpin Court area.

The approval came as City Council also postponed action on creating a new Human Relations Commission as a forum to hear complaints about discrimination.

Replacing the old church is another positive sign for Highland Park, according to the area’s City Council representative, Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, who helped shepherd the permit to approval.

“This is great for our community,” she said of the promised change for the building that housed the Nehemiah House Community Center after the church left in the 1970s.

The proposed four-story development promises to deliver 41 one-bedroom units, 23 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom units, according to CPDC. Most of the rents are to be based on the occupant’s income.

The development adds to the new apartments and homes that have blossomed in the area despite the recent loss of the neighborhood’s last grocery store and bank branch.

CPDC, which expects to begin the development in 2019, has become a mainstay for Highland Park development since being brought to Richmond in 2013 by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to undertake the replacement of the 200-unit Fay Towers in Gilpin Court.

CPDC’s first project to replace Fay Towers also benefited Highland Park. The company invested $11.4 million to convert an old school building across the street from the church into 77 apartment units that now serve former Fay Towers residents.

CPDC has moved slowly on the next phases of replacing Fay Towers, but after three years of planning, the company now appears poised to begin the work.

The company is proposing to transform the now vacant Baker School building at 100 W. Baker St. in Gilpin Court into at least 48 units for residents of Fay Towers, complementing the current private effort a block away to develop 12 apartments in the former headquarters of the defunct Independent Order of St. Luke begun by Richmond great Maggie L. Walker.

Separately, CPDC is planning to develop 154 units of new apartments in the block bounded by 1st, Duval, Jackson and 2nd streets in Jackson Ward, with 72 units to be reserved for Fay Towers residents. The remaining units are to be marketed to the community. A former Catholic convent on the 2.5-acre site also is to be renovated.

The company has not responded to Free Press queries, but Orlando Artze, interim RRHA executive director, stated that CPDC “is proceeding” on the projects and is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which owns Fay Towers and authorized RRHA to replace it five years ago.

“Final approvals for the project are expected from HUD shortly,” Mr. Artze stated, “and closing on both projects is expected this June. Construction would begin immediately afterwards.”

Meanwhile, City Council dashed hopes for quick action on the revival of the Human Relations Commission that was shut down in 2006.

Ms. Robertson said that two members of the council won support for putting off action until the council’s April 23 meeting to find out more about the commission’s duties and the city departments that would be assigned to work with the commission.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, co-sponsor of the measure, stated that the Mayor’s Office is questioning whether the appointment of the 13 members — 11 adults and two high school students — should be the sole province of City Council. The Mayor’s Office has expressed interest in appointing some or all of the members, Mr. Agelasto said.