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Community groups seek town’s support to preserve church in Orient

Orient groups are continuing their efforts to purchase and preserve the Orient United Methodist Church building on Village Lane and are looking for support from Southold Town.

Oysterponds Historical Society vice president Ed Caufield and Orient Association president Bob Hanlon said Tuesday that one goal is to create a coalition between Suffolk County and the town, both of which have set aside funds for land preservation, so the town won’t bear the financial burden alone.

The building, along with its surrounding park, is set to go on the market, with an estimated asking price of $950,000, because local Methodist congregations in Southold, Cutchogue, Greenport and Orient were consolidated into one regional church last year. Maintenance costs for the building could run around $30,000 to $50,000 annually, Mr. Hanlon said.

• Related story: Community looks to preserve historic Orient church for public use

The historical society recently conducted a survey to gauge the community’s interest in preserving the structure. Out of close to 300 respondents, 89.2 percent said they support the effort and 62 percent said they’d be willing to support it financially. Mr. Hanlon said it’s unrealistic to think the community could cover all the funds needed to purchase and maintain the building.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he’s a “hard sell” when it comes to getting the town involved.

While the groups are asking the town’s help in acquiring the property only, Mr. Russell said he was concerned that enthusiasm for the effort might wane, as it did for similar efforts in the past, leaving the stewards to come back to the town for maintenance funds.

He said if the town gets into the business of preserving buildings, it needs to develop priorities first.

“I don’t think the building should dictate the plan, the plan should dictate the building, and I think we’re jumping here because we haven’t done anything like that ” he said. If the building is intended for public access, questions of purpose and parking need to be addressed, he added.

Mr. Caufield said the historical society would like to be the steward of the space to expand its growing collection of local artifacts and documents, as well as make the space available to the community.

The group leaders asked about the possibility of using Community Preservation Fund monies to purchase of the church grounds. But the fund has limits, as there is now demand to use it to offset the costs of alternative wastewater treatment systems, Mr. Russell said.

“How thin can you stretch CPF revenue — which isn’t all that great to begin with,” he said.

Meanwhile, the church is urging the Orient groups to move forward as a proposition to build a new church for the combined congregation in Southold is currently before the town Planning Board and could use the funds from the sale, Mr. Hanlon said.

Mr. Caufield said the groups are open to all options and asked that any potential players — the county, town and other groups — meet and outline concerns and possible avenues, for which Mr. Russell said he would provide a town representative.

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File photo credit: Barbaraellen Koch