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St. Paul’s Church moving forward


Almost six months after a groundbreaking ceremony on the site, the new St. Paul's Church is under construction on Flamevine Lane, just off Ocean Drive, where its doors are expected to open next August – nearly two years after the original target date.

The cause of the delay?

Not enough parking.

In fact, Vero Beach city planners would not approve the barrier island project until the Anglican church, which has room for only 20 spaces on its property, produced an agreement with a neighbor to provide enough parking to accommodate its 150-seat sanctuary.

"It was a combination of parking and getting all our plans approved by the city, including the Architectural Review Committee," St. Paul's Rector Jon Robbins said of the obstacles that delayed the construction of the 6,500-square-foot, two-story building that will include administrative offices and classrooms on the second floor.

"The property was already zoned for a house of worship, so the parking issue was the primary reason for the delay," he added. "Thankfully, we got that resolved. The shared-parking agreement was offered to us as an act of kindness by strong Christian folks who believe that St. Paul's would enhance the community."

The church's parking agreement is with the Amalgamated Realty Corporation, a small, family-owned company that owns the office building at 2801 Ocean Drive and its parking lot. Robbins said the church is not paying for use of the additional spaces.

Robbins said his initial talks with the neighboring real-estate company began with local attorney Glenn Grevengoed, who is not a member of St. Paul's congregation. The lawyer represents Amalgamated Realty's owners and is based in their offices. He put the two parties together.

"The owners wanted to meet me and make sure the church building would be beautiful and that we would not hinder local businesses in any way," Robbins said, adding that, "Once they met me and saw that St. Paul's was committed to making a positive impact on the community, and especially kids, they were excited to help."

There's a public lot to the immediate north of St. Paul's property, but Robbins said city code required the church to provide its own parking – one space for every three seats in the sanctuary – to get its plan approved.

Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor said securing a shared-parking agreement with a neighbor was the "only issue" preventing St. Paul's leaders from commencing construction on its new church.

"Typically, you build your own parking," O'Connor said. "But if you don't have the available space on the property, you can satisfy our requirement by getting a neighbor to agree to share their parking facility."

St. Paul's has "just over 100" members, Robbins said, but not all of them are regular church goers. He said Sunday services, which are held at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., usually attract "80 to 85" worshipers during the winter months and "60 to 65" during the summer.

Robbins said that "except for a few stragglers who might stay around to socialize," most Sunday church goers will have vacated their parking spaces by 12:30 p.m.

The lots also will be used on Wednesdays, he added, but not until after 5:30 p.m.

"That's when we'll do basic ministry stuff," Robbins said. "Once we're in the new church, we want to offer a youth ministry to kids in the area, and we also offer Bible study for adults. In the long run, I wouldn't be surprised if we have 40 to 50 people there – 20 to 25 kids in youth ministry and 15 to 20 adults in Bible study.

"But it won't be until later in the day, so, in terms of parking, we really believe we won't cause problems for the local businesses."

The greatest potential problem? Saturday afternoon weddings could attract larger crowds that would exceed the church's parking capacity and fill parking spaces in nearby lots and along the streets.

Robbins concedes that "weddings and funerals can put pressure on parking," but he said St. Paul's leaders and members of the congregation are "sensitive" to the concerns of their beach business district neighbors – some of whom they know aren't thrilled with a church being built on that site.

"We know that the No. 1 concern of the local business owners is parking, and we're going to do everything we can to direct and encourage our folks to park in our lot or the lot we'll share," Robbins said. "Every single week, we pray that we'll be a blessing to the beach community and reinforce with our congregation that it's a huge honor and privilege to have a church in that location."

The St. Paul's ministry was established five years ago with Robbins as its rector – the Anglican Church's title for pastor – and held services in a conference room at the old Surf Club Hotel until it was sold in March 2015 and torn down.

The church then moved its services to the Garden Club of Indian River County, where they expect to remain until the new building is completed.

St. Paul's had been seeking a permanent home for more than a year when a donor stepped forward during the first half of 2014 and gave the church the $1 million it needed to purchase the then-vacant property at 969-999 Flamevine Lane. The sale was completed in July 2014.

Before the donation, St. Paul's had seriously considered relocating to the mainland, where it eyed two more-affordable properties, only for those deals to fall through.

"We started on the island and wanted to stay on the island, but we never imagined we'd be able to afford property there," Robbins said. "Then we got the donation, and the donor – who wants to remain anonymous – had a vision for putting a church on this particular property.

"At one point, we gave some thought to selling the land and building out west, but we really felt a sense that we were being called to the beach area," he added. "The Lord gave us a piece of land we never imagined we'd get."

Robbins said St. Paul's is building a "beautiful, seaside Anglican church" that will complement an area that is "one of the first places visitors to Vero Beach come."

To that end, after raising $2.2 million – including the $1 million donation – to fund the land purchase and start construction, the church recently launched another campaign to raise $1.35 million to complete the project.

"We have some extremely generous members,” Robbins said.

Robbins said St. Paul's has had a booth at the Farmer's Market, where a rendering of the new church is on display, and people seem to be excited.

"For a while, people drove by the site and it looked like nothing was going on," Robbins said. "But now that we've started construction, the response we're getting is overwhelmingly positive."