Community fighting to save a local church, new buyers ready to turn it into a gas station

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The town of Cumberland is fighting to save a local church. They attended a zoning meeting with the Department of Metropolitan Development in hopes of keeping the new buyers from tearing the church down and replacing it with a gas station.

"And we don't believe an automobile related use like a gas station is an appropriate use for that location," said Cumberland Town Manager, Andrew Klinger.

Leaders at St. John's United Church of Christ acknowledge the church is historic and a staple in the community. It's been at the intersection of East Washington St. and German Church road for man than 100 years. But members say they simply can't afford the upkeep for the crumbling building and its time to build a new location.

"We're in an old building that does not meet our purposes any longer. Its a crumbling building, its old," said Pastor Jimmy Watson.

The property is currently zoned as a church.

Both sides went before a hearing examiner who would recommend or deny the zoning code be changed to accommodate a gas station. The building has been up for sale for four years--and finally grocery chain, Giant Eagle put in a bid. They plan to demolish the church and replace it with a gas station and cafe. Pastor Watson said the town had the chance to buy the property.

"There was a call for buyers for someone to take it as a historical landmark therefore they would not destroy the building and they would use the existing building as their business but no body came forth to buy," said Pastor Watson.

The town manager says he started the process to purchase the building. Those opposed want to see something in line with the town's vision.

"We'd like it to be development that's more focused on that's a transit oriented development, that's pedestrian friendly," said Klinger

But church members say its time to go.

"Our backs are against the wall. We have to do something. We cannot afford to stay there any longer, the maintenance. Just the utility bills are extraordinarily high and we can't pay those," said Pastor Watson.

Based on the fact the town had the opportunity to purchase the building, the hearing examiner approved the zoning change. That decision will go before the Metropolitan Development Commission next month.

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