CUMBERLAND — For years, the stained-glass windows of the St. John United Church of Christ have been the highlight of the Gothic-style, red brick structure.
Today, those windows are boarded up in anticipation of the congregation moving to a new site and — if churchgoers have their say — razing the century-old church to make way for a gas station that has offered to buy the land.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission voted Wednesday in favor of rezoning the area to allow the business to build. Town officials who hoped to preserve the structure said that decision has all but sealed the fate of the church, which congregation members argue has become burdensome to maintain and needs repairs they can’t afford.
The final nod must come from the Indianapolis City-County Council. A date for that hearing has not been set.
Giant Eagle Inc., which has a pending agreement to buy the property, plans to demolish the historic church and build a gas station and convenience store on the Cumberland property.
Members of the Metropolitan Development Commission voted 4-2 Wednesday in favor of the Pittsburgh-based company’s request to rezone the four-acre site.
Giant Eagle agreed late last year to purchase the church at the northeast corner of Washington Street and German Church Road, contingent upon being able to build.
Wednesday’s hearing brought Giant Eagle’s plans a step closer.
“I am relieved,” the Rev. Jimmy Watson said. “I know the 20 or so people that were with me from the church were relieved as well.”
But the mood was sour among town officials who hope the building can be saved.
Town manager Andrew Klinger said the town had envisioned a mixed-use development that could fit into the town’s comprehensive plans.
“It’s obviously a disappointing result for us,” he said.
Church officials said it’s time to move on and accept the fate of the old church.
And they’re looking at the positives as they work on their own plans to relocate.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as they think it is going to be,” Watson said. “What is coming in will add to the community.”
City-County Councilman Ben Hunter had been working with town and church officials to save the old church. However, no compromise could be found.
“Unfortunately for Cumberland, they couldn’t really find any other solution,” Watson said. “They couldn’t find a buyer or anything like that.”
Though this is the second hearing in which Giant Eagle was given the nod to build, Klinger is holding on to hope.
“Ultimately, it will be the city-county council who makes the final decision,” Klinger said. “We’re really just getting to the point where we are talking to the real decision-makers.”
Church leaders said the aging building needs at least $750,000 in repairs, money the dwindling congregation doesn’t have.
The congregation plans to use a smaller place of worship at the northwest corner of East Prospect Street and Carroll Road, on part of a 50-acre tract the church owns. A family in the 1970s donated the land to the church, which has leased it to a farmer.
“If we didn’t sell this building, we were just going to use the barn that we built anyway,” Watson said. “Maintenance-wise, we cannot keep the old church maintained.”
The Indianapolis Business Journal contributed to this report.