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St. James congregation begins search for new home

St. James congregation begins search for new home
The Rev. Richard Crocker conducts a service at St. James church in 2013. (FILE PHOTO)

When Bill Kroener relocated with his wife from the East Coast to Newport Beach in 2006 he had no desire to join the Anglican parish housed in a church named St. James.

As an Episcopalian, he wasn't particularly interested in the Anglican denomination, he said. However, when the church transitioned back to its Episcopal roots in 2014, he and his wife, along with their children and grandchildren, were inspired to attend services at the house of worship on Via Lido.

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"It's become a very important part of our lives," he said.

Now, after spending a year at St. James the Great Episcopal Church, Kroener, along with three other parishioners, have been tasked with finding a new location for their congregation to worship.

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Bishop J. Jon Bruno, of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, announced during a service earlier this month that the church is being sold to a developer. The church, at 3209 Via Lido, is in escrow to be sold to Legacy Partners for about $15 million — double the assessed value of the site, the diocese confirmed.

"It is clear that everyone was surprised and saddened by the executive decision to sell the church," Kroener said. "It was not a decision made by the congregation."

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, which will replace an office building and a church.

It had become financially unsustainable for the diocese to support the church any longer, Bruno wrote in a May 17 letter to the congregation.

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Bruno wrote that the church property is out of compliance with city code because it lacks 40 parking spaces to serve the property. To meet city standards, the church would have to purchase additional land "that is unavailable in blocks where a multi-million-dollar boutique hotel is under construction, and where neighboring townhomes are selling for as much as $2.5 million each," he wrote.

"Meanwhile, operating expenses of $25,000 monthly, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars already spend to restart the congregation, are not sustainable given present congregational income…" he wrote.

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.

It is unclear how Legacy Partners plans to redevelop the church property.

News of the impending sale is another twist in the turbulent story of St. James, which opened in Newport Beach in the 1940s.

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

The move launched a court battle over the Newport Beach property that raged on for nine years between the Anglican parish and the diocese of Los Angeles.

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.

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Instead of realigning with the Episcopal Church, the Anglican parish of St. James began practicing elsewhere.

Now, the Episcopal congregation is in a similar situation.

While there are other Episcopal churches in Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach the congregation could attend, the members of St. James want to remain together with the Rev. Cindy Voorhees. The group is currently researching where best to host services in the future, Kroener said.

Bob Halford, of Newport Beach, who has attended St. James with his wife since its transition back to an Episcopal church, said the announcement shocked and devastated him.

"The church just started back a year and a half ago," he said. "We were starting from scratch and now we have five weeks."

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