The Oysterponds Historical Society and the Orient Association have been left in the lurch after the owners of Orient United Methodist Church decided to go with another buyer.
The landmarked 1836 building will be sold to John Wesley Village LLC, based in Riverhead.
“We’re very disappointed with these developments and it leaves us with a strong concern that a private buyer or an organization not based in Orient may not put the building to the use that meets the needs of the community,” Orient Association president Bob Hanlon said. “And they may not fully coordinate or complement the work of the other community groups.”
Jim Moore, CEO of John Wesley Village LLC, said his only intention is preserving the building and confirmed that he has signed a contract with North Fork United Methodist Church and paid a deposit.
“We’re going to preserve and restore this building, and we look forward to working with the Oysterponds Historical Society and using their expertise,” Mr. Moore said. “We look forward to preserving that building. It deserves all the love we can give it.”
Services at the Village Lane building ceased in May 2016 and the church has been trying to sell it directly, bypassing the open market, to prevent its sale to a private buyer who may change the property and take it away from the community. The historical society, with assistance from the Orient Association, had planned to borrow from the Peconic Land Trust’s revolving fund to help pay for the purchase.
The Rev. Tom MacLeod, pastor of North Fork United Methodist Church, is confident that John Wesley Village’s goals are the same as those of OHS and feels upbeat about the outlook since the building is not going into the private sector.
“The decision was based primarily at the point when the contracts came back and we saw that it was a simpler deal going with [John Wesley Village LLC],” the pastor said. “Along with the promise that the building would be preserved as a public entity and that they would work with the Oysterponds community.”
In February, OHS conducted a survey to gauge community interest in preserving the building and nearly 90 percent of about 300 respondents said they would support the effort. If OHS had ultimately acquired the property, it would have needed to raise the money over the next three years to repay the Peconic Land Trust.
The Rev. MacLeod said the building will likely be used for weddings and funerals, in keeping with its historic use, and as additional exhibit space for the historical society.
“The community down there is very motivated to see it preserved,” town Supervisor Scott Russell said. “I’m optimistic that they’ll be able to work with him and be able to come up with a long-term plan that ultimately meets their goals and interests.”
But Mr. Hanlon is not as confident.
“Even if the outsiders indicated a willingness to work with us, there’s no assurance that this is going to happen and even if it did there’s no assurance it is going to happen or continue in the future,” he said.
The historical society is glad the historic building did not go to a private citizen.
“We were a bit surprised and we are disappointed but I am hopeful that the new buyer is as conservative-minded as he stated to me in conversations and emails,” Ed Caufield, OHS vice president said.
Regardless of promises, OHS and the Orient Association are wary about the future of the church building. Mr. Hanlon said he hopes their efforts might still pan out, although he’s doubtful.
“I know there are some hurt feelings and I’m sympathetic to that, but at the end of the day, hopefully this will all work out for the better for all in the community,” the Rev. MacLeod said. “We met our goal because it didn’t fall into private hands and it continues to be of public use to the community of Orient.”
File photo credit: Barbaraellen Koch