9/18/2022 5:19:00 PM Planning for Redmon house stirs more debate
Council approves creation of a master plan that Mayor Ann Schneider said will address concerns about renovation of the historic structure
File photo | Oak Ridge Town Council recently voted to create a master plan for landscaping and installing a sidewalk at the entrance of Town Park where the historic Redmon house (shown in photo) is located. The council is considering renovating the house at the corner of Linville Road and Lisa Drive and renting it out for events and meetings.
by CHRIS BURRITT
OAK RIDGE - Debate over restoration of the historic Redmon house has taken a new twist, even as Oak Ridge Town Council advanced planning to improve the property surrounding the old farmhouse in Town Park.
Mike Stone, president of Preservation Oak Ridge which owns the historic Ai Church, said turning the Redmon house into an events center would put Oak Ridge in competition with meeting space rented by private business and nonprofits. That includes his organization, which is renting out Ai Church at N.C. 68 and Alcorn Road for events.
"To the greatest extent possible, towns should not compete against private businesses and nonprofits," Stone told the council during its Aug. 4 meeting. Instead, towns should support nonprofits and private enterprise, he said.
"That doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever," Mayor Ann Schneider responded. "We shouldn't provide picnic shelters because they might compete with other businesses? We shouldn't build new fields because they might compete with CrossFit's fields or ORYA's rentals?
"The town is growing and people have spoken in favor of having more options," she said.
The differing views emerged as the council voted unanimously to approve the creation of a master plan for landscaping and installing a sidewalk at the entrance of Town Park where the Redmon house is located.
At Town Manager Bill Bruce's recommendation, the council approved hiring Hill Studio, a Roanoke, Virginia-based design firm, to prepare the master plan and construction drawings, at a cost of $25,010.
Council member Martha Pittman said she believes creation of the master plan will give town leaders "an opportunity to take a good, hard look" at options for renovating the Redmon house and landscaping the property so that it blends with Town Park. Other concerns are providing adequate parking and ensuring safety of people using the area, she said.
"This is not approving or disapproving a plan," Pittman said. "It actually sets us on a path to getting some of the hard questions answered and the concerns addressed."
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kinneman reiterated his doubts that the Redmon house will attract enough usage to justify costs for renovating and expanding the structure to accommodate bridal and wedding showers, birthday parties, club meetings and other events.
The council appropriated $455,00 this fiscal year for refurbishing the house, now called the Farmhouse Community Center. Earlier this month, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners gave Oak Ridge $305,000 in pandemic relief funds for the project.
"Regardless of where the money comes from, it's still money" from taxpayers, Kinneman said.
"I have no problem with preserving the property and maintaining its historic presence," he said. "I have serious concerns about whether or not it's even going to get used to any degree given that there are a great number of other options in town to hold events. What I'm looking for is whether it's going to be used comprehensively and regularly."
Councilman Spencer Sullivan added that he's been "at times puzzled and at times disappointed about how this project has been approached and how it has been managed so far."
"I'm hopeful that this master plan will bring some clarity and answer some lingering questions that I and others have to complete the vision that folks have for this house," Sullivan said.
Preparing a master plan is required for the town to seek bids for restoring the house, he said. That step will provide a cost for the work, a consideration in how the council ultimately decides to improve the property.
"Even if we don't do the renovation to the Redmon house, we still need to improve the property on that corner," he said. "It is the gateway to our parks."
If restored as an events center, Oak Ridge resident Linda Greene said she believes the house would attract rentals for showers, birthday parties and events related to sports teams playing in the park. Its proximity to the walking path would provide "free advertising," she said.
"It's a place where people can build memories," said Greene, who worked 15 years in event planning and offered to assist the town in developing the Farmhouse Community Center.
"We are spending money outside of Oak Ridge on event venues," she said. "We need to keep the money in Oak Ridge."
Even though the council hasn't decided whether to proceed with the project, Schneider said town staff has begun drafting a rate schedule for renting the space. It's also looking at safety and policies of other venues for guidance in operating an events center.
Schneider said she believes the Farmhouse Community Center, with marketing, would generate "consistent, year-round use."
"I'm so grateful that residents have multiple places to choose from," the mayor said. "I hope that one day soon the Farmhouse Community Center will be one of them.'