- January 26, 2023
A church built in the 1950s in Winter Park soon will rise from its own ashes.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 650 N. New York Ave., is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt on the same property to make way for 16 luxury townhomes.
The redevelopment project, spearheaded by Condev Land LLC, includes eight, three-story, two-unit duplexes on 1.43 acres at the north end of the property, leaving room for a new church building set for the remaining 0.95 acres.
The project stemmed from the church’s decision two years ago to consolidate into a new facility. The church’s main building, nursery, offices and Sunday school are all spread out in separate buildings, but a new building would bring everything together.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to better meet our church’s needs and also provide this development opportunity within Winter Park’s central business district,” said Steven Wennerstrom, chairman of the church’s executive board, in a statement. “Our church has a long history in the community, and we plan to be here for a long time to come.”
The building also sits on a premium piece of land facing the Winter Park Golf Course, which isn’t being used to its full potential, said church member and volunteer Barbara Leigh.
“The whole motivation is to move forward and better serve the community and be more united in our church family by having a whole campus together,” Leigh said. “The sale has gone through. It’s happening. It’s what’s best for everybody.”
But some churchgoers such as Bunny Simmerson want to see the existing church building remain, despite a notice for demolition already being placed on its front door.
She argued the church, built by James Gamble Rogers II, is a historical treasure, although the it isn’t listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.
“It is wrong what they are doing,” Simmerson said at the Winter Park Planning and Zoning Board meeting Tuesday, Oct. 3. “They are destroying a wonderful structure, and they want to put a little box up there facing the railroad. I personally don’t know why we’d build a box of a church. They want the money. The greed has kicked in.”
Leigh said the majority of the congregation is in favor of the redevelopment project, noting that it also will make the church more energy efficient to have everything in a centralized building.
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.
Church services temporarily will be held at Orange Technical College starting in December, Leigh said. The new church building is expected to break ground by the summer of next year and be completed by 2019.
The Planning and Zoning Board approved the redevelopment project and zoning changes unanimously last week.
Winter Park city commissioners are set to vote on the project at their Oct. 23 meeting.