LOGAN SQUARE — More than a year after a plan to tear down part of Grace United Methodist Church and build apartments on the land sparked an emotional community debate, the site is up for redevelopment again.
This time, though, church leaders are looking to sell it all.
A “building assessment team” — consisting of a group of church-goers formed in 2015 — will vote on whether or not to sell the church buildings at 3325 W. Wrightwood Ave. on Sept. 9, according to an email sent to the church community.
In the email, the group said both the church building itself and the parsonage suffer from “decades of deferred maintenance and multiple ‘band-aid’ repairs or ‘upgrades'” — the same arguments church leaders made last year.
The building’s roof and masonry are in need of “significant and expensive” repairs and its old boiler and “vintage blend of fuse breakers and circuit breakers” is dangerous, the group said.
The parsonage has gotten so bad, the group said, that it can no longer safely house the pastor and his or her family.
“Past congregants did their best to serve as loyal trustees; however, given the long history of declining church attendance and associated loss of income from tithes, the church’s ability to appropriately address these infrastructure problems has been justifiably limited,” the group said in the email.
The group said for 15 years it’s explored possible solutions that would allow them to stay in the buildings, but nothing has worked out so far.
Last year, the group wanted to tear down the building that currently houses the education wing (built as an addition in 1925) and erect an apartment building — possibly five stories — in its place. In total, the redeveloped church would’ve offered up to 20 new apartments, including new housing for the pastor. They planned to keep 20 percent of the units below market value for lower-income renters.
The plan drew “poor response” from developers, the group said.
“One developer who was contacted by a BAT member personally stated that they were not interested because the return on investment was too longterm and the financial gains limited,” the group said.
The group said it’s also raised money through fundraisers and hosted various classes and events to bring in cash, but the money was never enough to cover the kind of repairs required to keep the building safe.
Now, the group argued, the congregation has no choice but to sell both church buildings and relocate or partner with another ministry.
At the Sept. 9 meeting, the group will first take a vote on whether to sell the church building itself. If that passes, it will then take a second vote on whether to sell the parsonage, which the group said is worth less than $300,000.
Attempts to reach the group and other members of the church were unsuccessful.
Grace United Methodist Church was the first English-speaking church in the neighborhood when it was established in 1904.
The congregation tore down the original building and constructed the current building in 1910. The church added classrooms, a gymnasium and a meeting area in 1925.
During the white flight of the 1950s and ’60s the church lost a lot of its members as the neighborhood’s demographics shifted heavily toward a majority-Latino population, according to former pastor Mark Schol.
When Schol took over in 2012 there were just nine people in the pews during his first Sunday service, he previously said. But attendance has “skyrocketed” in recent years, according to Schol. Selling would allow the church to stay in the neighborhood for another 100 years, he argued at the time.
Discussions on the future of the church date back to 2015.
The site is currently zoned for single-family homes. Developers looking to build anything except single-family homes would need a zoning change.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), whose ward includes the site, said he urges potential developers to preserve the historic church, especially given the community feedback he’s received so far.
“I personally love our historic churches,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “If I were an individual attending my own community meeting, I would be pushing for the preservation for the church.”
Ramirez-Rosa suggested that maintaining the current zoning designation could result in a reuse project.
“Any developer that would purchase it would have a tremendous disincentive to tear down the existing church building, so in effect, the existing zoning helps to protect this historic building in our community,” the alderman said.
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