Commissioners hold on church land purchase

holmes beach gloria dei street view
If the city purchases the property surrounding Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, the southwest corner facing Palm Drive could be used to realign Marina Drive, connecting it to 67th Street. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Before any deals are struck, Commissioner Judy Titsworth wants to know just how far parishioners at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church are willing to go to potentially save the institution.

Mayor Bob Johnson brought commissioners a proposal, along with two appraisals, to purchase three plots of land surrounding Gloria Dei – two in the back currently used for auxiliary parking and one in the front southwest corner facing Palm Drive. If commissioners approve, the city would be offering $1 million to the financially struggling church for the three pieces of land, costing the city an already-budgeted $105,000 per year for 10 years in debt services. Titsworth wants to know how much the price tag would be for the entirety of the church land, including the iconic church building.

This drawing by LTA Engineers shows how the Key Royale Drive and Marina Drive intersections could be redone using an elongated roundabout which would take up less of the Gloria Dei property.

If the city owned the four parcels, it could lease the ones the church wanted, primarily the one with the building on it, back to the nonprofit. Titsworth’s reasoning is that if the church fails and the center parcel is sold off, the city will own all the land around it but not that land, preventing it from saving the iconic building from potential destruction.

“The church is not sustaining itself at this point,” she said. “I think preserving the landmark building is more important than purchasing more land for open space.”

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said that with the current zoning, public/semi-public, the land and building have limited uses. Her examples of use included as an art center or wildlife rehabilitation campus. Primarily, land zoned PSP can be used by nonprofit organizations, government entities or as a public park. It cannot be used as commercial or residential space without commissioners voting to rezone the property.

Commissioners agreed to have Johnson get together with leadership at Gloria Dei to determine if there is a possibility of the city acquiring the entire property and what the price for that would be. If the possibility is there, commissioners will have to obtain two more appraisals, totaling about $5,000, before an offer can officially be made.

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she remembered church officials being opposed to selling the parcel with the building on it when the matter was first brought before commissioners for consideration.

Rev. Rosemary Backer of Gloria Dei did not return requests from The Sun for comment.

A drawing by LTA Engineers shows how a realignment of Marina Drive, moving the access to the street further north across the Gloria Dei property could work, potentially reducing traffic issues at the busy intersection located close to access to Key Royale.

Without a clear plan for the property, with or without the center parcel, some commissioners were unsure if they could get onboard with the idea of putting the city in debt for more green space.

Commissioner Jim Kihm said he’d like more discussion about a plan for the property before a vote is called to move forward with a purchase. Commissioner Rick Hurst said he’d also like to have a plan.

“I don’t want to buy land that we have no clue what we’re going to do with,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Titsworth said she doesn’t feel the city is lacking in green space. “Our job isn’t to buy up every piece of undeveloped land,” she said.

“It’s not about being short anything,” Johnson said, “it’s about preserving an asset.”

“Just because you don’t have a plan doesn’t devalue the land,” Soustek said. “The value is in having it for a future use.”

Commissioners agreed to put the conversation on hold until further discussions with church leadership were initiated.

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