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Rezoning decision to decide fate of historic German church

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The future of a historic German church in the town of Cumberland is up in the air.

The congregation wants to sell the land, but the town is unhappy about the company set to buy it.

The St. John United Church of Christ has stood at the corner of German Church Road and Washington Street in Cumberland for more than a century.

But if a rezoning goes through, the building would be demolished, making way for a gas station and convenience store.

Reverend Jimmy Watson is proud of his church, its building, and its history in Cumberland.

“Many people here have been here their entire lives and they’re elderly people and their ancestors were here,” he said.

But the years have taken their toll on the structure.

Cracks are visible in the ceiling of the sanctuary.

Renovation would cost an estimated $750,000.

So the land and church are for sale and the money will be used for a new, smaller building.

“It’s been a very emotional issue for them, but in recent years they came to that consensus that this is what needs to happen,” Watson said.

Giant Eagle has agreed to buy the land to build a gas station and convenience store.

But first the land has to be rezoned for that use.

And that’s where the town is stepping in to say “no.”

“We’re concerned about the church structure and trying to preserve that structure,” Cumberland Town Manager Andrew Klinger said, “But the issue in front of the Metropolitan Development Commission is really about zoning and what’s appropriate use for that site and we just feel like a gas station is not an appropriate use.”

Klinger said the town feels that it does not fit with its comprehensive plan to be more pedestrian, bicycle, and bus friendly.

He said the town has reached out to at least 50 developers to find another use for the land and the building.

So far one has come back with a proposal.

“That’s what we’re really looking for is to be able to present some sort of alternative option to the church, to the congregation, that would allow them to move forward with their plans but still preserve the structure,” he said.

But Reverend Watson wants the Giant Eagle sale to happen.

He said they’ve been trying to sell the land for five years and that time is of the essence.

“Our stance right now is we hope it gets rezoned. If it doesn’t, we’re back to square one,” Watson said.

The commission meets Wednesday at 1 p.m. to make its recommendation.

That will be sent to the city-county council for a final vote on the rezoning.

Reverend Watson said if the building is torn down, they plan to take six large stained glass windows to the new building.

They are also taking the pipe organ.