Tag Archive | "Methodist Church"

Methodist Church Closer to Adding Pre-K

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Much to the chagrin of two of its neighbors, the Sag Harbor Methodist Church is moving right along with plans to open its basement classroom space to Our Sons and Daughters preschool program. If all goes according to plan, the 12-student program, for children ages 3 to 7, would be housed at the church starting this September.

“We’ve heard from other property owners that there’s been a positive impact on the area because of the church,” said Diane Lavery, an attorney for the church, at a Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meetings last Thursday, April 5. “Since the church has been there, property values have increased.”

Neighor Pam Wright staunchly disagreed.

“There’s going to be more commercial traffic to the area: supplies being dropped off, trash being picked up… It’s going to [negatively] affect our property values,” she said. “This church has already affected our neighborhood.”

Wright and her neighbor Linda Velsor, who also attended last week’s meeting, expressed concern with the notion of increased traffic in the area due to an added preschool/kindergarten program on site. While Lavery explained the 13-student school doesn’t intend to grow any larger than 30 students, that didn’t sit well with Wright and Velsor, who also worried about the potential for more growth—including summer programs.

Again, Lavery attempted to quell their concern.

“The summer camp is run at the Ludlow Farm, and [Our Sons and Daughters] plans to do that in the future,” she explained. And as for the increased population at the church, Lavery further noted that the school has board meetings four times a year, bringing about four to five people in each time, as well as one monthly administrative meeting for which 10 to 12 people typically show up.

Adding to a laundry list of complaints, Velsor said she is also concerned with the level of noise during school hours when the kids go outside for recess.

“It’s a situation that we want to be aware of,” she added. “Because children at that age are not quiet when they’re outside.”

That may be true, Pastor Tom Mcleod noted, but he said the outdoor area was strategically built 8 feet below grade for that very reason: to stifle noise. In fact, the church had been considering holding its own Sunday School or pre-school programs on its grounds when the church was initially constructed. Mcleod said he was very conscious of the noise issue, and made sure the outdoor play area was constructed below grade so that it would have natural noise buffers.

“These kids would have to be having a major rock concert to be heard on Carroll Street,” he added.

Finally, Velsor expressed disappointment over the notion of increased traffic that would be brought by the new school. “I feel the increase in traffic on that road would be very hazardous to the area,” said Velsor, who lives on Carroll Street. “Cars come down faster than the speed limit, and they go racing up Carroll Street.”

However, as attorney Lavery explained, the planning board already adopted the building plan, which allowed the church to create a building with an occupancy of 200.

“We’re only talking about adding 13 additional cars to an existing 65-parishioner church,” she said. “We’re not talking about enlarging the impact.”

Board member Adam Grossman said he understood Velsor’s concerns, but added “I’m not sure what we can do to address traffic except not issue the variance.”

More importantly, he said the planning board is in support of the project. Planning Board Chair Herbert Phillips added that for this 128,000-square-foot lot—which can legally be divided into eight spaces—“to have an accessory use there really isn’t a burden.”

The ZBA is currently waiting for the final SEQRA determination to be approved by the Southampton Town Planning Board before it makes its final decision.

Before moving on to the next issue, board member David Reilly addressed the two women: “I have a feeling your parade of horribles is just not going to come to fruition,” he said.

Resident Would Like to Convert Former Methodist Church into a B&B

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Sag Harbor resident and attorney Linda Mintz approached the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday night with an informal plan to convert the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church into a 15-room bed and breakfast. However, board members expressed concern about the concept, questioning whether it would be an appropriate use for the historic, and now vacant, structure. On Tuesday, November 10 Mintz said she was interested in purchasing the church from Bridgehampton resident and former chairman of Goldman Sachs Dennis Suskind, who bought the building two years ago from the Methodist Church congregation for close to $3 million. Pastor Tom MacLeod said the congregation could not afford repairs and upkeep of the historic structure and needed to make the sale in order to afford construction of a new, more affordable, church off Carroll Street. While Suskind originally intended to convert the church into a single-family residence, he later put the church back on the market and it has sat dormant for the last two years. On Tuesday, Mintz noted the building was a registered historic landmark and very important to village residents. She proposed converting the structure, which is zoned residential, into a high-end bed and breakfast. “There is a lot of history as far as converting historic buildings into B & Bs,” said Mintz, adding she believed the project could be beneficial to businesses, specifically those located near the church at an often less-traveled portion of the village business district. “Unfortunately, the code doesn’t really allow for that type of use in that type of structure,” she said. Mintz said the simplest way around the code, should the village support the idea, would be for the board to change the definition of a bed in breakfast to allow for more rooms in larger structures. “To me, I don’t know any B & B is 15 rooms,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride, to the agreement of a majority of the board. Trustee Tiffany Scarlato added there was a lot of public resistance to allowing smaller bed and breakfasts in residential neighborhoods. Mintz noted the 1708 House in Southampton Village has 15 rooms and the 1770 House in East Hampton boasts 10. Both are located in residential districts and despite its closeness to Main Street, the church is in a residential section of the village. “The problem is the use is so limited and we have a landmarked building sitting there vacant,” said Mintz. On Wednesday, Mintz said she felt the village has long needed a boutique bed and breakfast and when she looked at plans drawn up for Suskind by Fred Stelle architects for the church, felt it was a perfect fit. “I would think the village would welcome this use instead of it being a private residence,” said Mintz. “This way it is good for businesses and open to the public.” Mintz said Tuesday’s meeting did not deter her completely, and she planned to explore the concept further with her attorneys. However, an uphill battle is not something she is interested in, she added. “If it looks like I am trying to push a pebble up Mount Everest, I will not proceed,” she said. Sewers & Budget In other news, the village repealed and adopted a new sewer law to make the legislation in line with state law. According to attorney Frederick Eisenbud, who represents the village regarding the sewer system, changing the law involves defining the use of private septic systems as a part of the sewer district. Ted Conklin, owner of The American Hotel, urged the board not to pass the new law, noting a major aspect of an ongoing lawsuit between some member of the sewer district and the village is that just 10 percent of the village – those currently hooked up to the system – pay for the sewage treatment plant. He said passage would result in ongoing legal battles and expenses. “This is a very complicated thing, but our side is more than willing to sit down and discuss practical resolutions to this,” said Conklin. The board ultimately did repeal the old law and enact the new law, despite Conklin’s protest. Village Treasurer Eileen Tuohy informed the board that the village is currently looking at a budget shortfall of $40,000 to $45,000 for the fiscal year 2009-2010, for the most part as a result of mortgage tax revenues and interest on investments not bringing in what the village budget anticipated it would. She will present the board with a complete report in January. The board also adopted a new law designating bike lanes on a route around the village business district, from Glover Street to Long Island Avenue, which connects with Route 114, and on an alternate route from Spring Street to Bridge Street to Long Island Avenue. Lastly, the board agreed to hire Bob Bori as the new village harbor master after Ed Swenson announced his resignation earlier this month. Bori, who owns a landscaping business, is a former Sag Harbor Village Fire Department Chief, former officer with the Southampton Town Police and lives in the village.

Fee Waived for Methodist Church

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The Southampton Town Board voted on Tuesday evening to waive a final building permit fee for the Sag Harbor Methodist Congregation. In April, the parish was granted preliminary site plan approval for a new church to be built at the corner of Carroll Street and the Bridgehampton Turnpike in Sag Harbor. Since the spring, the congregation has paid between $20,000 to $25,000 in taxes and town fees in preparation for breaking ground on the project, estimated Pastor Tom MacLeod. Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst said at a meeting on Friday that the building permit, costing around $6,000, is beyond the church’s means.

“There is just not enough money in their coffers for the fee and the actual building,” explained Throne-Holst who had been contacted by the church. On Friday, supervisor Linda Kabot asked if the town similarly accommodated other churches in the past. She was informed by an aide that there is a precedent for building permit waivers for religious and not-for-profit organizations.

“My understanding is that this has been done historically,” remarked MacLeod during a later interview. “We aren’t asking for the enaction of a new law. What we are attempting to do with the building is to try to take care of the community that surrounds us.”

The congregation sold their Madison Street building in 2007 to former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind for $2.9 million, but netted around $2.7 million. The group temporarily operates out of the former St. David African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Eastville Avenue.

A public hearing on the church’s plans for the new space was closed without public comment on April 9, at a planning board meeting and final site plan approval was granted in July.

MacLeod hopes to commence construction on the new building in October. The church will be 6,776 square feet and will include a sanctuary, basement, fellowship hall, kitchen, bathrooms and parking lot. Overall, MacLeod expects the project to cost between $1.3 to $1.5 million, in addition to the $695,000 cost to purchase the land, and will take nearly 10 months to complete.

The congregation first discussed selling the Madison Street location and building a new church in 2005. After several years of seeking approval with church trustees, Methodist officials and the town, MacLeod is excited to be nearing the end of the process.

“This isn’t for the faint of heart,” he said. “You have to be diligent.”

To Build a Church: Methodists Move Forward on New Edifice

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Three years ago, the Sag Harbor Methodist Church congregation found itself in a dire situation. Only 15 parishioners consistently attended Sunday mass – a meager number by congregation standards – and the average age of a church member was around 72, said Pastor Tom MacLeod. After completing a full assessment of their former Madison Street home, a towering building – with a columned entrance – dating back to the 1800s, the congregation learned the space was in need of repairs totaling $1 million.
“My predecessors were in a crisis mode trying to figure out how to keep the building open,” said MacLeod, who took over the church in 2002, of the pastors before him. “It was overwhelming just figuring out if we had enough money to put the heat on … It would have been a matter of time before the church would have been ‘aged out.’”
Although unfortunate, the predicament of the Sag Harbor Methodist Church was far from unusual. According to MacLeod, Protestant churches have noticed a steady decline in numbers since the late 1960s. In fact, this phenomenon was one reason MacLeod entered the church.
“I was first involved [with the church] as a layperson … But one of my calls to the ministry was the decline of the church … It really grieved me to watch a church in decline. I wanted to know why we were accepting this … Why there wasn’t anything that could be done to stop it,” said MacLeod.
The Sag Harbor Methodist Congregation voted to circumvent certain death by selling the building to former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind for $2.9 million in spring 2007 and relocating.
“Almost all of us agreed that it was necessary for the survival of the church [to sell the building],” said church trustee Bruce Saul. “The survival of the church was more important than the survival of the building.”
As part of the agreement to move, MacLeod found an interim space for the congregation and a plot of land for sale just outside the village on which a new church would be constructed.
Coincidentally, the members of the Sag Harbor Methodist Church found themselves temporarily located in the former St. David African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church on Eastville Avenue. The AME Church, founded in 1840, had closed its doors nearly a decade ago because of dwindling membership and the steady aging of its parishioners.

Although the fate of the AME church serves as a constant reminder to the Sag Harbor Methodist congregation of their once possible fate, the church numbers are now booming and they are preparing to break ground at the new property. The plan was in front of the Southampton Town Planning Board for the first time last week. CHECK THIS

“When Tom came, we started to grow,” said Carol Elmslie, a 21-year member of the congregation. “Tom brought a new openness and freedom to the church. He brings people from great distances and a big draw is the praise music instead of the organ.”
In an effort to attract new parishioners, and cut down on costs, church member Suzanne Lewis began to sing and play the guitar every Sunday.
“In all of the handbooks on church growth, they tell you to hire a music director and youth group leader … We didn’t have the funds available, so we decided to keep things simple and do the best we could with what we had,” said MacLeod.
The change in style seems to have paid off for the church. On Easter Sunday, almost sixty consistent members attended mass, as MacLeod preached with humor and humanism while describing the struggle between the Philistines and the Israelites. The congregation, however, squeezed into the space and only a few seats were left open.
“We are all looking forward to the new space,” said recent member Carol Jaswal. “Even on regular Sundays there are not many seats left.”
The public hearing on the church’s plans for their new space was closed without public comment on Thursday, April 9, at the town’s planning board meeting. Architectural engineer Matthew Sherman, of the Shelter Island-based firm Sherman Engineering and Consulting, gave the board a brief presentation on the church’s intended plans for the site. The church would like to construct a 6,776 square foot building, complete with sanctuary, basement, fellowship hall, kitchen and bathrooms at the corner of Carroll Street and the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. The neighbors adjacent to the property, including Sag Harbor Village Trustee Brian Gilbride and Pamela Kern of Harbor Heights, are in favor of the project.
Paul Mott, however, of the Mott Family who sold the church the parcel, said he would like to see a 50-foot buffer of land between the edge of his property and the proposed church parking lot. As the plans stand today, there is 20 feet between the parking lot and Mott’s land.
To ameliorate the problem, Sherman suggested taking away a few parking spaces.
“We proposed 54 spaces … But we really need only 48. If we take six spaces out that would pull back [the space between Mott’s property and the parking lot],” said Sherman.
Overall, MacLeod expects the project to cost between $1.3 to $1.5 million, in addition to the $695,000 cost to purchase the land. MacLeod added that the church – after paying various taxes and agents’ fees – netted nearly $2.7 million in the sale of the Madison Street building.
Although, the property on the turnpike will no doubt serve the congregation for many years, MacLeod noted that the church moved four times since it first began in the early 1800s.
“We had to adapt to the needs of the church … But the church is not the building,” said MacLeod. “When I go to visit people in the hospital and tell them the church is praying for them. They don’t envision the building. They envision the people.”

Some Push for a Library at Church

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By Raphael Odell Shapiro

At last Wednesday’s monthly board of trustees meeting at the John Jermain Memorial Library, trustee in charge of fundraising Susie Merrell was the first to broach the subject of the United Methodist Church building acquisition. In a grueling meeting that had many of the trustees sneaking glances at their watches, the controversial topic dominated the discussion.

“I’m very committed to investigating the church,” said Merrell. “But we would need $15,000 to $17,000 now just for the investigation,” she added. 

Merrell stressed the importance of finding people to underwrite funding up front as opposed to public fundraising. Merrell proposed calling upon the people who brought the church to the board’s attention as a possibility for their expansion plan, suggesting they were in, for lack of a better term, a “put up or shut up” situation.

Trustee Nancy Hallock didn’t see the benefit of being at the church as opposed to building a new space in Mashashimuet Park.

“We’ll either need money to build or money to renovate,” she said. “I agree, they should have to foot the bill if they want us to reconsider.”

Hallock reminded the board that the church will by no means “answer [their] prayers,” – that it would require a lot of work, but still would not be the perfect solution. Merrell interjected that if the board fails to at least explore fully the viability of using the United Methodist Church space, they run the risk of alienating a segment of the population.

For years the library has been searching for ways to expand beyond the walls of the historic domed building on Main Street that it has occupied since 1910. The board has maintained a commitment to the “one library, two buildings” concept – renovating the original historic library while creating a new space somewhere near the library. The most likely, and certainly the most discussed scenario has involved using a triangular lot in the northwest corner of Mashashimuet Park for the second library space.

However, at a June 10 meeting, the board of trustees was approached by three area residents, Stephen Longmire, Liz Joyce and Rob Calvert, who asked the board to consider converting the former United Methodist Church building, located just a block away from the John Jermain Memorial Library on Madison Street. The church is now on the market after being purchased by former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind. Suskind’s purchase of the historic edifice was met with public opposition from some who hoped it would remain in the public sphere.

Library director Catherine Creedon, along with board member Carl Peterson, met with Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi to discuss whether or not a town purchase could be made through the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for conversion to a library. According to Creedon, while there was precedent backing this kind of purchase through CPF, she had yet to hear if the Southampton Town Board determined it would be an appropriate use of the funds.

Creedon also reported on a meeting she, library board president Christiane Neuville and Peterson attended with architects Herbert Newman and Michael Scott, of the firm Herbert S. Newman & Partners of New Haven, Connecticut. Herman S. Newman Partners were selected early this summer, after an extensive search, as the firm which would help the library create their new space. The firm is not yet under contract with the library, but several written agreements will soon be drafted, outlining the divisions of services and programs.

On July 10, the two principals for the firm traveled to Sag Harbor to meet with the sub-committee, which Creedon has dubbed informally the “Architect Liaison Committee,” at the Methodist Church. According to Creedon, in conversations she had had with Scott beforehand, he had expressed that “the firm will never say something cannot be done.” Upon arriving at the church, however, the two architects’ comments were anything but positive. Scott reportedly admitted that the church would be “very difficult to convert.”

The two men expressed concern about the structure of the building. Evidently, the wooden frame does not meet today’s standards in terms of a public space. If the building remained a church and continued to be used as such, no reevaluation of its structure would be necessary. Another issue is floor loads. Without major reconstruction, the floors of the historic church cannot withstand the weight of thousands of books, not to mention the library’s patrons.

The architects were also worried about the five different levels within the church building, noting it would make accessibility difficult. More staff would also be needed to cover each level. They also noted there is not enough space for parking at this time.

Newman, who appreciated the building’s historic appeal, was reportedly “devastated” when informed that the Methodist Church congregation would be taking the stained glass windows with them to their new location. He warned the three members of the sub-committee that taking the building’s aluminum siding into account, and considering the major reconstruction needed, what may be left is a “windowless, aluminum-clad shell.”

Scott affirmed that the church’s proximity to the library is really the only advantage, that despite the beauty of the space it would need to be considerably stabilized. Creedon reported that Scott found it an “interesting prospect to convert,” but for the sake of the building, it would be best if it remained a church. After that a use might be a public assembly hall, and next best a private residence. A library was fourth on the architects’ list.

As for a new building at the park, the architects have imagined it as a kind of gateway into Sag Harbor. They also projected that financially the board would achieve up to one-and-a-half times the library on the triangular lot, with fewer future costs, as they could at the church space.

Some of the board members were encouraged to hear on Wednesday that Scott, in a letter of intent, was at least willing to pursue a more thorough inspection of the church. Trustee Diane Gaites was not.

“I just think everything we’re saying now is null and void,” she emphasized, observing that Southampton Town cannot fund the library, as it is not a preservation foundation. Board member Carol Williams interjected that state assemblyman Fred Thiele said that was not the case, and that she would follow up on that information.

But Gaites reaffirmed her stance. She said that after four years of looking into the expansion, she believes the board is “going backwards.” Gaites reminded the board that 80 percent of library patrons live outside of the village, perhaps rendering proximity a moot point. She ended the night’s discussion by concluding passionately, “I think we are spinning our wheels and spending time on something we shouldn’t be.”

 Above photo taken by kathryn g. menu

In A Perfect World …

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In a perfect world the former United Methodist Church would be the ideal site for the new building the John Jermain Memorial Library desperately needs. The marriage of two important landmarks in Sag Harbor’s history would be a model moment for the village and surely one we could all be proud of.

Unfortunately what is ideal is not always the reality of a situation, and where we live is far from a perfect world.

While we believe having the United Methodist Church kept as a public space would be the best ending in this story, we remain unconvinced that it is the right or ideal solution for the John Jermain Memorial Library.

Regrettably, we feel this has placed the library board of trustees’ in a position where they are not only taking steps backwards, but are now poised to disappoint a faction of the community deeply if they choose to continue to chart what has been their present course —towards Mashashimuet Park.

Worse, Herbet S. Newman Partners, the architectural firm chosen to help guide the library and community through a design and referendum process, stand to alienate a portion of the library district should they argue the church is an inappropriate space. The building has a lot of emotion attached to it for many, as it should, and especially given its history over the last year.

Ultimately, the John Jermain Memorial Library board of trustees will be under-serving its patrons should it choose the United Methodist Church parcel over the parcel at the park. The decision would be based partially on a community longing for community space — not appropriate library space, which should be the board’s ultimate goal.

We are concerned the church space would be prohibitive in what it could offer the library in the sense of facility and organization. Long-term maintenance costs is another concern we have, but ultimately time is the foe in this debate as we feel this stands to set the library board back months in its goals, and who knows how long if they must wait for the Town of Southampton to move forward.

While there are those who argue the distance between the park and the current library is too great — or the distance between the park and the village is too great — we disagree whole-heartedly. This is an opportunity to create a larger sense of space in the community — from the park through the village. And let us not forget a number of library district residents are not village residents, but reside in greater Sag Harbor — a collective that embraces the park and facilities at Mashashimuet already.

So while we wish we could stand behind the concept of the library board seriously considering the United Methodist Church for its expansion, we feel it was headed in the right direction while on its own path. And in a perfect world, a more appropriate community organization will step forward on the church’s behalf.