Newport’s once fought-over St. James church to be sold to developer

St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach in 2009. The church is in the process of being sold, according to officials of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach in 2009. The church is in the process of being sold, according to officials of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is wrapping up a deal to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to a real estate developer.

Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said the church is nearing the end of negotiations to sell the church property at 3209 Via Lido and the parking lot across 32nd Street to Legacy Partners for about $15 million. The offered price is about double the property’s assessed value, Williams said. St. James’ turbulent history includes an Episcopal-to-Anglican switch and a lengthy court battle.

A Legacy Partners representative said the company had no immediate comment.

Church services likely will continue into the fall, Williams said; after that, parishioners probably will have to look for another house of worship.

The church is in an aging area of Newport Beach that is home to large development projects including the Lido Marina Village revitalization, a proposed boutique hotel on the former City Hall site at 3300 Newport Blvd. and the Lido Villas townhomes under construction at 3303 Via Lido. The townhomes will replace an office building and a Christian Science church.

Legacy Partners, based in Northern California, has residential and commercial properties throughout the United States, including Los Angeles and Orange counties. The development firm has built Azulon at Mesa Verde, a senior apartment community that opened last year in Costa Mesa, The Carlyle at Colton Plaza in Irvine and other apartment complexes in Santa Ana and Anaheim.

The St. James church property is zoned for private institutions, meaning a private school or church is an acceptable use of the land. Current zoning law does not allow residences, said city Community Development Director Kim Brandt.

If a developer wants to build houses or apartments, it would have to request a zoning amendment, which the city would review. Brandt said she has not yet heard of anyone seeking such a change for the church property.

Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the impending sale to congregants during a service Sunday. The news is another twist in the tumultuous story of the church, which opened in the 1940s.

Its members split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 after disagreements about ordaining a gay bishop and other issues that led St. James to eventually affiliate with the Anglican Church.

The move made St. James’ congregants some of the many American Christians joining the Anglican Church at the time, spurred by a difference of interpretation in what it means to live according to the Bible.

It also launched a years-long court battle over the Newport Beach property. The church was an Anglican parish from 2004 to 2013, when an Orange County Superior Court judge granted property ownership rights to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.