Rezoning approved at site of church

CUMBERLAND — The historic St. John United Church of Christ in Cumberland seems destined to be demolished.

On Monday, the City-County Council in Indianapolis approved rezoning the land at the northeast corner of Washington Street and German Church Road, where the church is located.

The approval allows church officials, who say they cannot afford to maintain the building, to move forward with plans to sell the land, a four-acre site in Cumberland, to Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle.

Giant Eagle has plans to knock down the 101-year-old Gothic structure to make way for a gas station and convenience store.

Monday’s meeting marked the final step in the approval process to have the land rezoned for commercial use.

“We’re in packing mode now,” the Rev. Jimmy Watson said.

The church hopes to close on the sale of the land in 30 days.

Church members anticipate moving out at the end of the summer, Watson said.

Approval of the rezoning disappointed Cumberland officials who said they want to save the old structure. Despite the dire outlook for the church, town officials said they hope to keep it from being razed.

Town Manager Andrew Klinger announced late last month that TWG Development LLC had proposed a mixed-use project that would preserve the century-old church, but those plans have since stalled.

Still, Christine Owens, Cumberland director of planning and development, said there are other options to stop the demolition. She said the town is exploring whether Giant Eagle correctly filed the necessary permits with the city to build the gas station and whether they might be incomplete.

Klinger filed a public records request with the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement requesting a copy of the Improvement Location Permit that Giant Eagle would have needed to file prior to the city’s implementing a moratorium on new gas stations,

The permit is needed in order to build the gas station and 24-hour convenience store.

The city has not responded to the request for records.

If a complete permit was not filed, town officials said they believe Giant Eagle cannot proceed. The moratorium on gas stations was adopted by the City-County Council in April.

Watson, however, said he believes the deal will be grandfathered in because the process to sell the church started before the moratorium was put into place.

“We aren’t so worried about that,” he said.

Town officials remain steadfast in their plans to save the church.

“We remain committed to the community’s vision for land uses that would create a greater sense of place and generate more tax revenue than another gas station,” Klinger said in a news release. “We regret this has become so confrontational, but we are charged with protecting the best interests of the community of Cumberland.”

While Klinger said town officials fully support the church’s decision to move and are not opposed to Giant Eagle, they would like to have the company build their facility elsewhere.

“This is the wrong location,” Klinger said.

Council member Benjamin Hunter, who represents the Cumberland area, said he did not want to see another gas station in his district but said the approval of the rezoning must be respected.

“Several attempts to find another buyer in the last few weeks have been unsuccessful,” Hunter said in a written statement.

Efforts by the church, Indiana Landmarks and Partners for Sacred Places to find a buyer to rehabilitate the church also failed.

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

The Indianapolis Business Journal contributed to this report.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.