Hearing on church delayed; council member seeks compromise

By Indianapolis Business Journal

CUMBERLAND — Officials with the town of Cumberland are stepping up efforts to stop the demolition of a historic church.

The officials have hired one of Indianapolis’ top real estate attorneys to argue their appeal.

Pittsburgh-based grocer Giant Eagle won a major victory Feb. 12 when a hearing examiner for the city’s Metropoli-tan Development Commission recommended granting the company a zoning variance to construct a 6,100-square-foot gas station and convenience store on the 4.8-acre site.

Giant Eagle has an agreement with leaders of the St. John United Church of Christ to buy the property at the northeast corner of Washington Street and German Church Road, just west of the Hancock County line.

Town officials are appealing the hearing examiner’s decision, but a hearing scheduled for this week to debate the issue further was continued until March 18 at the urging of Marion County City-County Council member Ben Hunter.

Hunter plans to meet Thursday with representatives from all sides to explore the potential for a settlement among the parties.

“This continuance will allow for me to meet with the petitioners and Cumberland officials, Giant Eagle officials, church members and town officials,” Hunter wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.

His goal is to hear from all the parties, which have agreed to meet, to discuss a resolution that pleases all sides.

“It is my hope that a compromise can be achieved and that the building can be saved,” Hunter wrote.

In the meantime, Cumberland has brought on Mary Solada to handle its appeal. Solada, a partner at the local office of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, formerly led the firm’s real estate practice group.

“Looking at Mary’s experience, she deals more with metropolitan development cases,” said Andrew Klinger, Cumberland town manager.

Cumberland will pay Solada up to $5,000 to handle its appeal, Klinger said.

The town wants to save the century-old church and had started exploring the possibility of purchasing the land before Giant Eagle agreed to buy it.

Town officials would even support another entity acquiring the building if it meant saving the structure, Klinger said.

“In my view, a win-win for everyone would be a solution where Giant Eagle is still able to build but at a different location and the church is still able to sell but with the church structure preserved,” he said.

Town officials have insisted a gas station and convenience store at that location doesn’t mesh with its comprehensive plan. The town prefers a more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development to complement Indianapolis’ mass-transit plans, they said. The proposed 24-mile, east-west blue line would run from Cumberland to Indianapolis International Airport.

The final verdict on the land use rests with Indianapolis because of its proximity to the city. Cumberland straddles Hancock and Marion counties. Under Unigov, the city of Indianapolis has jurisdiction over Cumberland zoning issues in Marion County.

Giant Eagle operates GetGo convenience stores in addition to its Giant Eagle supermarkets.

Church leaders said the building needs at least $750,000 in repairs — money the dwindling congregation doesn’t have. They are building a new and smaller church on part of a 50-acre tract the church owns at the northwest corner of Prospect Street and Carroll Road.

For about a century, the land that Giant Eagle wants to build on has been the site of the Tudor Gothic Revival-style church.

The church opened in 1855, initially serving German immigrants who farmed the surrounding area. That structure was replaced later that century, and the current building opened in 1914.

Daily Reporter Staff Writer Kristy Deer contributed to this report.