Townhomes will replace 1940s St. James church if developer’s plan is OKd

The development firm that in May bought St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Lido Village plans to build townhomes in place of the popular house of worship.

Philip Bettencourt, a Newport Beach real estate development planner working with the buyer, Legacy Partners Residential, gave a preliminary look during a town hall meeting Monday evening at the building project planned for the 26,205-square-foot sanctuary and two nearby parking lots.

About 200 community members and St. James parishioners, who wore matching red T-shirts in support of their congregation, packed the council chambers at the former Newport Beach City Hall to find out what’s in store for their church.

The congregation was taken aback last month when Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles announced during a service that the church, at 3209 Via Lido, was being sold to Legacy Partners Residential for about $15 million.

The last service is expected to be June 28.

“We have a jewel box of a church,” the Rev. Cindy Voorhees said of the property, which was built in the 1940s. “This church was supposed to stand for several hundred years. To have it come down now is absolutely ludicrous.”

Bettencourt said the developer plans to build about 22 high-end townhomes on the site. However, the road to development is not short.

The St. James property is zoned for private institutions, meaning a private school or church is an acceptable use of the land. Before Legacy Partners can build homes, the City Council would have to approve a general plan amendment and zoning change, said city Community Development Director Kim Brandt.

If the project receives all the required city approvals, the California Coastal Commission would weigh in. The entire process could take about two years, Brandt said.

Legacy Partners has not yet given the city a complete application for the project.

“We have seen very preliminary drawings,” Brandt said. “Once we have an application, we can evaluate what’s being proposed.”

Congregants have questioned why the diocese decided to sell the church less than two years after reclaiming it from an Anglican parish.

For decades, the church was home to an Episcopal parish, but in 2004, ideological issues led St. James to affiliate with the Anglican Church.

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

The proposed townhomes would be the latest alteration in the aging Newport Beach area known as Lido Village, which is home to several large development projects, including a Lido Marina Village renovation, a proposed boutique hotel on the former City Hall site at 3300 Newport Blvd., and the Lido Villas townhomes at 3303 Via Lido, which will replace an office building and a church.

While city staff members have applauded the projects as necessary updates for the entrance to the Balboa Peninsula, some longtime residents aren’t as pleased with the rapid changes.

“We’ve lost our theater, restaurants … we’ve lost our whole block to condos and, quite frankly, I’m tired of it,” said Lido Isle resident Jack Price.