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John and Jennifer Church giving their vision for Chronicle Mill another go

Sep 26, 2019 10:16AM

By Alan Hodge

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.

That old adage certainly applies to the saga of husband/wife team John and Jennifer Church and their years old attempt to bring adaptive reuse to the 117 year old Chronicle Mill in Belmont. 

Last Monday the pair held an informational workshop at TechWorks in Belmont to show their latest, and perhaps last, ideas for turning the huge, red brick, edifice to bygone textile days into upscale apartments that will blend a nostalgic feel with every modern amenity.

Located on Catawba St., the 110,000 sq. ft. Chronicle Mill was built in 1901 by R.L. Stowe and other investors. Workers who laid the bricks for the imposing three-story structure earned $1.75 for every thousand they put down. Timber and other lumber used in the building cost $13 per thousand board feet delivered to the site. The mill’s name was chosen to honor a Revolutionary War patriot from Gaston County, Major William Chronicle, who had lived near the mill 

site and was killed in the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780. The first bale of cotton was fed into the Chronicle Mill’s steam-powered machinery on Feb. 28, 1902. By 1908, the mill was powered by electricity, a move that doubled production. In time, countless cones of cotton thread would be spun at the Chronicle Mill until it finally shut down in 2010. 

The mill sat empty for several years and the Churches bought it. An early idea John and Jennifer first had would have seen the building transformed into a hotel, office, retail space, and event space, but the market wasn’t ready.

“There was not enough commercial demand to support that idea,” John said.

Nonetheless, the Churches began work to try and get the mill structure ready for whatever evolved. Projects they took on included removing a huge water tank, tearing off a brick facade, working on the foundation, and putting plastic on the multitude of windows.

More time has passed since then, the plastic is shredded, and the mill still sits empty. In the meantime, the Churches came up with their current idea that would see a fourth story added to the old structure and a new, four story building constructed beside it. Together, the two buildings would have 240 apartments. 

“It has evolved from commercial to apartments,” John said. “Apartment demand is very high.”

But there’s a fly in the ointment.

When the Churches bought the mill, its deed  was ‘bundled’ with 184 others in the area that stipulated that only single family dwellings are allowed. The deed restrictions, put in place in 1991 by R.L. Stowe Mills, covers not only property adjacent to the mill, but ones as far away as  East Belmont. The Churches need 75 percent of deed holders to approve a document lifting the restriction. So far, they’ve gotten about 30 percent on board.

“The document will not change anything on their land,” said Jennifer. “It is private between the developers and parcel owners. It won’t cost the parcel owners anything.”

According  to the Churches, it’s likely Jennifer will go door to door if need be with a copy of the document and a notary public at her side. In addition, the Churches will be at the November 4 Belmont city council meeting with their plans, but council approval is not needed for the project.

If the Churches are successful in getting the deed restriction lifted, work on the $50 million project could finally, at long last, get going. In anticipation of success, the Churches already have a developer and architectural firm lined up.

“Work would start immediately,” said John.

If not, that could be the end of the Chronicle Mill.