Church of the Cross eyes Seven Oaks for offices

cconley@islandpacket.comApril 30, 2012 

Barring a last-minute setback, Seven Oaks soon will be owned by Church of the Cross.

The Rev. Chuck Owens on Friday confirmed the church's plans to buy the 1850s-era mansion at 82 Calhoun St. and convert it into a central office.

"We are one church ... but we have two locations," Owens said, referring to its buildings on Calhoun Street and Buckwalter Parkway. "We have now outgrown the office space we have and are currently scattered in two places. This is a chance to pull everyone together."

The sale won't go through unless the town approves construction of a 1,200-square-foot office building on part of the site that abuts Allen Street, according to Owens.

The Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday approved a setback variance for the new building, which also would contain offices. The Planning Commission endorsed the project April 25, and the Historic Preservation Commission will consider it Wednesday.

Seven Oaks comprises four parcels totaling .83 acres and is valued by the county at $808,000. The property was listed for $999,000.

Terms of the pending contract were not disclosed.

Thomas Viljac bought the property in 2007, intending to covert the 2,200-square-foot mansion into a boutique inn with up to 15 rooms. At the time, town code did not allow lodging at the site, although the rules have since been changed.

Viljac said he chose to sell because bank financing for inns has become much harder to obtain.

"My heart's desire was to do an inn, and I have no doubt in my mind we could have had tourists stay there," he said.

The house dates to about 1850, when it was built by Col. Middleton Stuart, who led a company of Confederate troops from Bluffton in the Civil War. Decades later, the property was used as a boarding house. More recently, it's hosted wedding receptions, photo shoots and other events.

The Graves House, just across the street from Seven Oaks, is under contract by Bluffton United Methodist Church. The Methodist church wants to buy, tear down and rebuild a replica of the Graves House on the same property. That project also will be reviewed Wednesday.

Not everyone believes offices are the best fit for Seven Oaks.

"I just think a higher and better use would be for something that would enhance the commercial prospects of the historic district," said Jacob Preston, who owns a pottery shop on Church Street.

The Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, however, supports the conversion, said Nick Maxim, its board president. Maxim also sits on the Historic Preservation Commission, but made clear he was not speaking in that capacity.

Depending on how the commission votes Wednesday, Viljac said the sale could be closed within weeks.

"It hasn't closed, but there are no contingencies other than the approvals," he said.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.

Related content:

Renovated Seven Oaks seen as another visitor draw to old town Bluffton, 06/09/2008

Old town Bluffton church could buy, tear down Graves House, 04/22/12

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