trinity united methodist
DRONE PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS AND JESSICA LEVINGS CAMPUS OVERVIEW — A drone photo shows the campus of Trinity United Methodist Church at the corner of Clara and Wisconsin avenues near Downtown DeLand, with 50 parking spaces currently on-site. Across Wisconsin Avenue is the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church campus.

NorthWest Square, proposed by DeLand real estate investors Chris and Jessica Levings, would transform a more-than 100-year-old church campus into a space for businesses, apartments and more. 

The project near Downtown DeLand took one step closer to becoming a reality, with approval from the DeLand Planning Board May 18.

The Levingses expect to close on a $1 million deal to purchase the Trinity United Methodist Church building at 306 W. Wisconsin Ave. by the end of August. 

With the purchase on the horizon, and the Planning Board’s approval to rezone the property to a planned unit development, or PUD, the project will need approval from the DeLand City Commission before development can move forward.

DeLand attorney Mark Watts of Cobb Cole, representing the Levingses, showed off the tentative plans for the church, which received unanimous support from the Planning Board, despite some misgivings about parking.

The first floor would include event space, a ground-level apartment and nine commercial spaces. The Levingses envision a cafe, a taproom and coffee shop, artist studios and a neighborhood food market.

Watts likened the space to a business incubator.

“It’s a type of use that can allow people to get a foothold as an entrepreneur before they have the ability to go out and have their own stand-alone location,” he said.

The second floor would have space for 12 additional apartments, and the third floor would have room for two more living spaces.

While the use of the building will be quite a bit different from how it has been used since its construction in 1926, the Levingses plan to change little about the church’s exterior and original assembly rooms, including the sanctuary. 

Watts likened the project to Orlando’s East End Market, another former church redeveloped into a space for small businesses.

The Planning Board’s main concern was parking. The church campus currently has 50 parking spaces, but with people living on the property, and the potential for events and popular businesses inside, some on the Planning Board worried about cars overflowing into the nearby residential neighborhood.

While the Planning Board was wary of parking problems, Watts said a goal for the project is to encourage walkability, especially with the church’s proximity to Downtown DeLand.

“Since it’s a neighborhood-commercial use,” he said, “the intent is these types of uses encourage pedestrian traffic.”

Residents, Chris Levings also noted, would be guaranteed one parking spot each, meaning 15 of the 50 parking spaces would potentially be called for once the units are rented. To determine whether this could cause future problems, the Planning Board recommended a parking study be conducted.

With the project’s unanimous approval by the Planning Board, it now moves to the DeLand City Commission with a recommendation for approval with the Planning Board’s recommendations, including:

The existing exterior of the building would be preserved as much as possible

Potential businesses would be licensed to sell only beer and wine, or full liquor in a restaurant setting only; otherwise, liquor sales would be restricted to caterers that might serve alcohol at events

NorthWest Square’s hours of operations would be 7 a.m.-11 p.m.

The property would not be subdivided among multiple owners

A plaque or monument would be built explaining the history of the building

A parking study would be conducted, and the results would be provided to city staff.

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