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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 4 years ago

Winter Park City Commission approves townhouse project for church property on first reading

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A 16-unit townhouse project is one vote away from becoming a reality on the site of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.
by: Tim Freed Former Managing Editor

A development for 16 townhouses at the site of the First Church of Christ, Scientist took another step toward a final approval on Monday as Winter City Commissioners voted in favor of the project on first reading.

The townhouses would be built where the church sits today at 650 N. New York Ave., marking a new chapter for the congregation who opted to sell 1.43 acres of their property fronting the Winter Park Country Club golf course. The church, built back in the 1950s, would be demolished to make way for the project.

That decision stemmed from a discussion that began several years ago, with the church looking to consolidate and rebuild a new facility to better meet the needs of their members.

The existing church campus has a sanctuary, nursey and Sunday school that are spread out in multiple buildings. A new facility, rebuilt on the remaining 0.95 acres of the property, would allow the church to be more centralized, according to a statement released from the church.

Several members of the church spoke out in favor of the lot split and the new townhouse project that would sit along New York Avenue.

“We worked closely with members to determine their wishes and we’ve always been led by their prayerful decisions,” church member Nan Williams said.

“The concept has come together in perfect harmony and we know it will benefit both our church and the Winter Park community.”

The original church edifice was built in 1958, and has had a public reading room along Park Avenue since the mid-1960s, making it one of the oldest tenants along Winter Park’s downtown strip.

One lone church member, Bunny Simmerson, and her husband spoke against the demolition of the church, which was built by renowned architect James Gamble Rogers. She said the building should be preserved, though it is not listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.

“This is my second home,” Simmerson said. “We’ve had four generations in that church. In my wildest dreams as a developer I couldn’t do that to anyone else’s church.

“Be very careful when you make decisions like this. It affects the quality of Winter Park.”

City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said she supported the townhouse project, but also wished to see the church preserved somehow.

“It’s very tragic to me,” Cooper said. “The good news is we have a developer who is very sensitive and very aware of the value. We have some time. What I’m hoping is perhaps we can try to do something that might help us preserve this part of our history.”

The City Commission agreed that the project met city code, voting it through unanimously.

“I do drive by the church often, probably two, three, four, five times a day,” Mayor Steve Leary said. “It does bring a smile to my face. It’s a really cool old church, but as comments were made earlier, this is a church decision. I think we have to move it forward.”

The project will come back for a final vote at the next Winter Park City Commission meeting on Monday, Nov. 13.

If and when the demolition takes place, church services temporarily will be held at Orange Technical College starting in December, church member Barbara Leigh said. The new church building is expected to break ground by the summer of next year and be completed by 2019.

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Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. 

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