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Will This Church Stay Standing?

Narberth United Methodist Church is for sale for $1.7 million. Without a religious use, the property is zoned residential.

The Narberth United Methodist Church sanctuary at Price and Essex avenues is . Plenty of people—in the congregation, the borough and surely elsewhere—consider the building valuable, even vital.

What the building is not is protected from demolition. Nor is the parsonage next door; it was built in 1900, 20 years before the main church building.

"You don’t know whats going to happen to the building," said Marolyn Buchanan, a Narberth UMC member since the 1960s. "We just hope whoever purchases it doesn’t tear it down."

Narberth real estate agent John Duffy is marketing the property, for an asking price for $1.7 million. 

"Some religious institutions have expressed interest, and a few developers have," Duffy told Patch. "The congregation and ourselves would really love to see this stay as a religious institution. But they also have to look at the fact that it’s real property and they want to get somewhere close to fair market value."

The property is zoned R-3 (found in Narberth municipal code chapter 124), which allows a variety of residential construction, such as single-family homes and triplexes.

Duffy said the various levels and elevations of the church are making it difficult to calculate the exact floor area, but he estimated it at 8,000 square feet.

Duffy said he has sold sanctuaries and seen them stay intact, and he has sold others that did not.

"It breaks my heart to see these churches close down and there's no use for the building," Duffy said. "It's sort of a Narberth institution, even though it needs updating."

A church-conversion success story stands just across the street at 316 Essex Ave. Narberth UMC's former sanctuary, a 4,200-square-foot building erected in 1890, is now a single-family home.

Lower Merion Township, where several property owners this year have sought permission to renovate former churches, is that would govern how former religious buildings could be converted for other uses.

Manager Bill Martin called the current church "obviously a building of great local historical flavor," and Narberth UMC pastor Lydia Munoz said it was "part of the identity of Narberth."

"We'd love for someone to come in to make it a library, or an annex of some kind," the pastor added.

No formal offers for the property have come in yet, Duffy said.

Narberth UMC members will begin attending services at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Bryn Mawr early next year. Asked whether it would feel bittersweet to leave the Narberth church building behind, Munoz replied, "I understand the incredible attachment people have to this building. Of course that’s the bitterness of it; it’s a place where the building is so absorbing of everything. But then the sweetness comes in that we are honoring the legacy that the church has, because we understand the church is more than a building."

Eric Karson July 31, 2012 at 07:02 PM
It would be great to convert this property into an addition to the tax base in Narberth!

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