Monday, September 25, 2023

A historic house in Kempsville is for sale, and some want the city to buy it

VIRGINIA BEACH — A historic house in Kempsville is up for sale, and some people are up in arms.

Pleasant Hall, a 250-year-old historic house owned by adjacent Kempsville Baptist Church, is selling for nearly $1 million, according to its real estate listing. Another church is already in negotiations to buy the property — but some citizen groups are trying to change that.

The Historic Kempsville Citizens Action Committee, along with the Pleasant Hall at Kemps Landing Foundation and City Councilwoman Jessica Abbott, view the sale of Pleasant Hall as an opportunity to increase public access to the historic site. They want the city to either buy the property or partner with its future owners, rather than be sold to another private entity.

“In an ideal world, I think the city should buy the house, but I also live in reality and know that resources are fixed,” Abbott said. “I think the city should at least consider partnering with whomever ends up owning the house” to highlight its history.

To amplify citizens’ desires

Marie Roberson started the foundation in December 2018 to amplify citizens’ desires to make Pleasant Hall the center of “Historic Kempsville.”

“We are trying to save Pleasant Hall from remaining private, and to see what we can do about the city buying it,” Roberson said. “It has such a rich history, it’d be a real shame for it to continue being closed off like it is now.”

As of Friday, an online petition started by the foundation had 331 digital signatures.

Pleasant Hall has been for sale since Nov. 8, 2018, and the undisclosed church vying for its purchase has a limited time to make a decision.

“Which means there’s still time for the city to come up with a viable offer,” Roberson said.

Sharron Pinkston, assistant to senior pastor at Kempsville Baptist Kelly Burris, referred all questions about the church’s sale of Pleasant Hall to its real estate agent, Al Carmichael, who was not immediately available for comment.

‘A discussion of use’

The state has held a protective “deed of easement” over the Pleasant Hall since 1973, said Mark Reed, historic preservation planner for the City of Virginia Beach. The easement requires archaeologists and architectural historians to review any proposed changes to the property.

“So this is really a discussion of use — not of preservation,” Reed said. “Because the property is already preserved by this state easement.”

Reed said the easement protects the building’s interior and exterior from any changes that would take away from its “historical integrity.”

The home was built in 1779 by a wealthy Princess Anne County landowner named Peter Singleton, according to its nomination to the National Register for Historic Places. It’s described as “an outstanding example of Virginia’s Georgian architecture” that was used during the Revolution in 1775 as a headquarters for Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last royal governor.

Moving forward to the retreat

Abbott has the unanimous support of the committee, the Pleasant Hall foundation, as well as residents to get the city involved in Pleasant Hall’s future.

Abbott said most of the residents who attended a town hall Thursday voiced their support, which she indicates strong support among some residents in Kempsville — not just academics or armchair-historians.

“The public, in Kempsville, specifically, really loves and appreciates this important piece of history,” Abbot said “They want to see it celebrated.”

City Council will discuss the city’s future relationship with Pleasant Hall during its annual retreat on Monday (Feb. 11).

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