At Monday night’s Mebane City Council meeting, the elected board considered a rezoning request by Aubrey and Celine Meador for “The White House,” located at 7920 E. Washington Street. The 5.61 acre property had been zoned R-20 (residential) for decades, but the Meadors requested a rezoning to B-2 CD (general business conditional zoning). The Meadors also requested the 3,725 square foot White House and the property to be annexed into Mebane’s city limits.
While the nearly 120-year-old White House property has historically been used for residential purposes, it sat vacant for many years until the Meadors purchased the home. While the Meadors have made many improvements for residential use to the property, the primary use for the refurbished home is Retreat/Conference Center, with an additional allowance for a Bed and Breakfast.
The Meadors envision the White House as an ideal wedding and wedding reception venue, and anticipate utilizing the facility as such. The property is also approved for occasional events such as arts and crafts shows.
“This is exciting for us. This is coming at the end of a lot of work with Cy and the Planning Board. It has been a community effort to get here,” Celine Meador stated to the City Council before going into a historical background on The White House.
The original owners of the tracts of land the White House sits on are members of the Bingham family, with three tracts being combined to produce the current property in the early 1870s. The Binghams were the founders of Bingham School. Eliza Bingham Penick, sister of the Bingham school founders, is believed to have lived in a home on the property in the 1870s.
James Samuel White, President of White Furniture, constructed the current home on the property around 1891-92. By the middle of 20th century, Phonse Bean, an executive of White Furniture and future “Makers of Modern Mebane” award recipient, took possession of the home. Phonse Bean owned the home from 1954 until the 1980s, when it was sold to a relative, Bernie Bean. The property eventually changed hands again, went into disrepair and was desperately in need of renovation when the Meadors purchased it.
The expressed goals the Meadors have for the property include preserving and sharing this significant piece of Mebane’s history, maintaining the historical integrity and residential look and feel of the house, staying in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood, and to be a good, considerate neighbor.
As part of the rezoning, the Meadors agreed to restrict all outdoor activities to conclude by 10:00 p.m., and limit the number of requested primary uses from 21 to six. The six approved uses for the White House under the new rezoning include a Retreat/Conference Center, Bed and Breakfast, Walls and Fences, Swimming Pool, Arts and Crafts Shows (temporary use), and General Accessories, such as a valet stand, tents, etc..
“Retreat/Conference center is the best use to support a wedding venue. We don’t have an event use that we would introduce into the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance). Currently this is the best we have,” Mebane City Planning Director Cy Stober informed the City Council. “It is rather broad in this definition. This is the best fit.”
The property is just across the county line in Orange County on East Washington Street. There is a large farm pond to the south of the property that is unaffected by the rezoning request. There are no improvements to that part of the property. No stormwater solutions are required for the property.
The Meadors, who currently own Reed’s Coffee, Fine + Folk Art Carolina, as well as Mebane Downtown Table, are branding The White House on Washington Street as “A gracious space to gather. Capturing our history and celebrating life with family and friends.”
“This has not been purely for financial gain - although we’d like to have a sustainable business,” Aubrey Meador said. “In terms of the feel of what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s not a rock and roll bar. We want to do something that fits into the community.”
When the Meadors purchased The White House a couple years back, it was practically gutted and in rough condition. It took years, untold hours of labor and sweat, and plenty of money. But the Meadors have brought the rich charm and history back to this unique downtown Mebane home.
Their restoration was so well-received, in fact, that the couple earned the Mebane Historical Museum’s annual Preservation Award in 2018. This past fall, The White House was one of the featured homes in the Mebane Historical Museum’s annual Harvest House Tour.
“I called a friend who is an architect and has done some historic things at Fort Macon at the beach,” Celine Meador said. “I called him and asked if it could be done. He said, ‘You’d be crazy to do it, but you could do it.’ I guess that’s what made me decide to do it. It’s been a labor of love.”
“We feel like it’s something that’s such a big part of Mebane’s history,” Aubrey Meador added. “It was abandoned, and in really rough shape. It took a lot of vision to realize it could be brought back. I’m not sure why we said yes. We are reclaiming an abandoned property.”
Some of the work undertaken by the Meadors in the restoration project included plaster crown molding replete with carved ornamentation in the first floor rooms, the expansion of the dining room - nearly doubling its size - and the resurfacing of floors throughout the home. Walls have been stripped to the studs, a second story deck above the grand room/den was constructed, and the expansive outdoor patio was prepared.
“The residential renovation is pretty much complete,” Meador continued. “There’s a few things left to be done. It’s a beautiful place. If you look inside now, it’s really come together. The house, it has so much character and so much personality and so much history. It’s just been a wonderful experience to get involved with this house.”
The Meadors’ Completion Plan for The White House includes ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, such as accessible parking, restroom, and building access, with some further modifications planned, such as adding one more handicapped access parking spot and a ramp to the patio space.
Structurally, support columns will be added to the upstairs deck, based on engineer’s evaluations. For additional fire and safety, signage will be added, along with compliant doorways, fire extinguishers, and commercial HVAC smoke detectors, to be adjusted as required.
As far as the septic system, the Meadors indicated that they will connect to the City of Mebane’s sewer system, even though Orange County’s Health Department has a plan to upgrade the existing septic system to meet requirements for the White House’s uses.
“We’re asking now to be annexed into the city, and be hooked up to the city sewer. We’ll have to do that through an easement, or cut across our driveway,” Aubrey Meador stated. “The sewer does not exist down Washington Street.”
The front lawn, including all identified trees, will be preserved as a landscaped area to satisfy the streetscape and some of the perimeter buffering needs. This area shall not be used for any other purpose, including temporary uses. The total undisturbed front lawn area is approximately 19,397 square feet.
With the building size under 4,800 square feet, the facility would have required only 24 parking spaces. But with the addition of outdoor functional spaces, bringing the total footprint of the Retreat/Conference Center space to 8,399 square feet, the requirement was increased to 42 parking spaces. The City’s Planning staff advised removing four spaces from the plan, due to the proximity of neighbors. Offsite parking with shuttle service will be utilized for events requiring more parking spaces. No on-street parking will be allowed on Washington Street.
The Meadors also requested a waiver from paved parking and curb and gutter requirements in order to preserve the historic integrity of the property.
“We feel that gravel is less commercial-looking. We want it to look like a house that has been through history,” Aubrey Meador said.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has advised that a reduced driveway entrance on the west side of the property would likely be acceptable - 18 feet rather than 20 feet - due to the placement of an historic stone column and mature cedar tree on a small embankment. The Meadors agreed to work with City and neighbors to place additional plantings within the buffer zone, where suggested.
Unlike the Mebane Planning Board, who had a contested vote on the project, the Mebane City Council unanimously approved the rezoning request.
“It shows a lot of courage, taking an old house like that and making something beautiful out of it,” City Council member Tim Bradley said in making the motion to approve the Meadors’ request.
“I would just like to say thank you for the beautiful gift that you have given Mebane,” added fellow City Council member Jill Auditori in seconding the motion.