North Fork United Methodist Church, founded in 2014 when congregations from Southold and Cutchogue merged, may soon be on the move again.
The church has submitted a site plan proposal to the Southold Town Planning Board seeking to construct a 7,100-square-foot building with 50 parking spaces at the southeast corner of Horton Lane and Route 48 in Southold.
Church attorney Pat Moore said NFUMC is in contract to buy the 2.45-acre parcel, pending approvals. The property is currently owned by Rmb Realty LLC of Boca Raton, Fla., according to town tax records.
The application was discussed at Monday’s Southold Town Planning Board work session. To proceed, the church will also need a special exemption permit from the town Zoning Board of Appeals.
Ms. Moore said that in 2006, site plan approval had been granted at that same location for two medical arts buildings that were never constructed.
Planning department staffers recommended that the earlier approval be formally withdrawn before proceeding with the church application.
The North Fork’s Methodist churches have had difficulty sustaining themselves as independent congregations in recent years. Last year, Greenport United Methodist Church decided to join the already combined Southold and Cutchogue congregations. Services for all three congregations are now held under the NFUMC name at the Cutchogue location, which is currently on the market.
The Southold Methodist Church building has been sold to a longtime opera singer who plans to convert it into an opera house.
The 162-year-old Greenport United Methodist Church building was put up for sale last year.
Pastor Tom MacLeod, who leads the merged congregation, was not at Monday’s Planning Board meeting but said in an interview last year that the merged congregations will make the church stronger.
“We’ll be able to provide services that a stronger, more centralized church is able to provide,” he told the Suffolk Times at that time.
The plan is to consolidate the North Fork’s United Methodist churches in a single location in Southold.
Mark Terry, Southold’s principal planner, said the planning department is concerned about whether parking at the proposed church will be sufficient to accommodate larger gatherings, such as weddings, and whether the ZBA will require NFUMC to provide space for overflow parking.
Another concern is traffic congestion at the intersection of Horton Lane and Route 48 during large events.
A third concern is that the plan proposes 100-foot setbacks from each road, and Mr. Terry suggested that some of that land could be used for additional parking.
Ms. Moore said that since the church’s contract is dependent on town approvals, she’d want to know early in the process of any opposition to the project.
“I don’t think you’re wasting your time,” Planning Board chairman Don Wilcenski said, adding that they’d let Ms. Moore know at the outset how they feel about the plan.
Planning Board member Jim Rich expressed concern about the church’s sustainability.
“We’ve seen four Methodist churches fold on the North Fork in the last 10 years,” he said, wondering what would happen to this property if the church were to fold again down the road.
The churches didn’t fold, Ms. Moore replied, adding, “They were operating with buildings from the 1800s and small congregations.”
Mr. Rich said he’s seen the local Methodist churches struggling.
“The Methodist Church in Southold is a shell of its former self,” he said, adding that he’s concerned the consolidation strategy won’t work.
“I feel terrible, but that’s the way it is,” Mr. Rich said.
Ms. Moore responded: “The reason they’re all coming together is to make it a strong, viable organization.”
No date has been set for the ZBA hearing.
Photo Caption: The former Southold United Methodist Church is being transformed into an opera house. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)