Efforts to turn a historic church into a brewery in Ghent met with mixed reactions

NORFOLK, Va. - There is an effort to turn a historic church into a brewery in Ghent near the Chrysler Museum.

The Unitarian Church of Norfolk located on the 700 block of Yarmouth Street is next to the Hague and has been for sale for three years.

Saba Properties, owned by Christopher Todd and his business partner Craig Reilly, wants to buy the building and lease it to Champion Brewing, a Charlottesville company with ties to Hampton Roads. They'd like to open a microbrewery and preserve the historic church.

“They're going to maintain the historical integrity at the church, otherwise it'll sit vacant and who knows what the next chapter will be,” said Todd.

Thursday night they discussed the issues at the civic meeting.

The brewery would be open until 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends and would not sell hard liquor.

It would not be a production facility; it would only make small batches of beer for sale at the brewery location.

Some of the neighbors are concerned about noise, traffic and parking.

Several residents put signs in their yards that read “No Brewery”.

Resident Mary Brenner said she is against the idea.

“I think it's a desecration of both of the church and a beautiful neighborhood,” said Brenner. “We cannot bring such a thing to a neighborhood like this.”

Several people told News 3 they like the idea of the brewery - they just don’t want it near their home in a residential neighborhood and don’t think it’s an appropriate location.

But others support it – including a church leader who encouraged the community to get behind this plan at the civic meeting.

Some people expressed fear that if the church is not sold it could be torn down or left vacant. They like the idea of a church transformed into a brewery.

“I think it would be really great and I think there is been a lot of breweries, great breweries in Norfolk already drawing people out so I think this would be a great addition,” said Norfolk resident Peter Farmer.

Todd said the area is part of arts district that continues to grow and believes this church would be a great location for the brewery.  Although he disagrees with opponents, he understands their concerns.

“I hope that we can all be friends afterwards," Todd said.

The civic league is going to vote on the issue to gauge how the neighborhood feels about the project on Friday.

Next week, the Norfolk City Planning Commission is expected to also discuss the issue on July 27.

This plan would still need to get zoning approval and be subject to a vote by the City Council.

If it passed, it could open in 18 months.