The Daily Pilot, in Fountain Valley, California, reports that a judge has allowed the sale of a church property to move forward after parishioners of St. James the Great in Newport Beach filed a lawsuit to at least temporarily halt the sale. A developer purchased the property for $15 million, a deal made by Bishop J. Jon Bruno and announced to the congregation in May.
Legacy Partners Residential is the buyer and plans to replace the 1940s-era church with high-end townhomes. The congregation says the sale was news to them, and besides that, according to an earlier story:
…is in violation of the original deed. The property is to be used exclusively for church purposes and “no building other than a church and appurtenances may be erected, placed or maintained thereon,” according to the legal complaint.
Ownership rights to the property transferred from the Griffith Co. to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in 1945. The Griffith Co. developed much of Lido Isle, beginning in the 1920s.
According to the Daily Pilot:
Judge David McEachen decided that parishioners of the Newport Beach church did not have the legal right to file a claim seeking to stop the sale since their group is not listed on the deed.
“It’s very disappointing,” parishioner Joel Bernard said. “We will continue to make the City Council aware of the concerns surrounding the transaction and appeal to the Episcopal Church.”
The diocese claims that the parish cannot prohibit the diocese from selling the property or the land being used for purposes other than a church:
Ownership rights to the property were transferred from the Griffith Co. to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in 1945. The Griffith Co. developed much of Lido Isle, beginning in the 1920s.
Lawyers for the diocese wrote to the court that the church in 1985 negotiated removal of the use restriction from the deed, granting the diocese the right to sell the property for other purposes.
Even with approval of the sale, rezoning is required and it could be two years before anything new is built on the site. The congregation, however, has very little time to move, according to the June 24 story:
If the court rules in favor of the diocese, Sunday would be the final service at St. James. The diocese plans to remove the pews, all stained glass windows and the cremated human remains stored in the church immediately following the service.
The parish’s history includes another property-related battle, resolved in 2013:
A group of parishioners split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 after disagreements surrounding the ordaining of a gay bishop and other issues that led St. James to affiliate with the Anglican Church.
The move launched a years-long fight over the Newport Beach property between the Anglican parish and the Episcopal diocese. The church was an Anglican parish from 2004 to 2013, when an Orange County Superior Court judge granted the property ownership rights to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett