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First Universalist Church seeks special exception for rebuild

After being destroyed in an electrical fire in 2015, First Universalist Church of Southold is in the process of being rebuilt.

The fire at the Main Road church started around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, 2015. More than 150 firefighters from a half-dozen departments responded to the scene. The church was a century and a half old when it was lost.

Attorney Patricia Moore, representing the church, came before the Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals last Thursday to request a special exception permit. The application requested permission to construct a new house of worship building upon the parcel, where an existing single-family dwelling, currently used as a rental home, and the parish house are located.

If approved, the permit would give the “Church on the Bend” more flexibility for the final site plan, Ms. Moore said.

“I think it’s recognized that the church was here probably about the same time that some of the old houses were built on the Main Road, and certainly before most of the community was developed,” the attorney said.

Architect Peter Marren said the final details and materials in the project are still pending, but the town historic preservation commission has reviewed the site plan.

“They’ve been encouraging and even enthusiastic about the evolution of the design. We’re going to come back to them with the final details and the final material,” he said.

He said the current plan was also brought before the architectural review committee, which responded positively.

The special exception permit needs to go before the town Planning Board, chairperson Leslie Kanes Weisman said. Then the Planning Board can approve the final site plan.

Insurance money is providing most of the revenue for the rebuild, building team member Mark Sisson said. Some additional funding has come from local donors. The building team, appointed by the church’s board of trustees, has raised over $3,000 through a GoFundMe page for the rebuild.

Building team chair Irene Stewart posted an update to the church’s website Jan. 30, 2019, in which she said Mr. Marren estimates the builder, Eugene Burger, can construct the church within a budget of $2.2 million. In December, she said the only source of revenue for rebuilding is insurance money and fundraising.

Mr. Sisson said Mr. Marren and Mr. Burger are considering designs that are different from the original proposal due to budget concerns. The refined budget will include a sanctuary building and a pavilion that will function as a gathering and reception space, connecting administrative offices of the main level with the sanctuary. The level below the sanctuary, he said, will have a parish hall larger than the previous infrastructure.

“We were originally designing a building on what the community wanted,” he said. “This [design] satisfies a lot of the concerns the community has. It’ll be very good to get the church back on the bend.”

While the board will not have a decision for another week, chairperson Weisman remained positive toward the request during the meeting.

“It’s with great pleasure, that I can say welcome home First Universalist Church,” she said. “It’s been a long, difficult process, and I think all of us are happy to see this restoration.”

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