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St. Paul's seeks help from new neighbors

STORY BY RAY McNULTY (Week of August 21, 2014)

A $1 million donation has made it possible for St. Paul’s Church to purchase a long-empty Central Beach building – home years back to the Ocean Oaks dental practice – which will become the Anglican church’s permanent home on the barrier island.

But money isn’t enough.

St. Paul’s, which has been conducting services in a conference room at the Surf Club Hotel on State Road A1A since the ministry was established three years ago, won’t be able to open its doors without help from its new neighbors.

“Parking is a real issue,” Pastor Jon Robbins said of the two-story, 7,000-square-foot building located on Flamevine Lane, just off Ocean Drive, where the new church would include a 175-seat sanctuary, classrooms and administrative offices.

“Right now, we’re short by a number of spaces, so we’re working with city planners and our neighbors to see if we can get shared parking agreements.”

According to Robbins, the Vero Beach city code requires one parking space for every three seats in the church – in this case, at least 58 spaces – and the property has room for only 21. He declined to identify the neighbors he has approached, but he said he’s optimistic he’ll be able to solve the parking problem.

“Overall, since learning that we purchased the property, the neighbors seem to be quite happy with it,” Robbins said.

And he isn’t about to do anything to sour the relationship between the church, which has a congregation that fluctuates seasonally between 70 and 85 members, and its neighbors.

To the contrary, Robbins said St. Paul’s will be a “blessing to the island community.”

“Sometimes, when a church is established in a community, there are concerns about parking and keeping up the property to the community’s standards,” Robbins said. “But it’s our hope that this church will be another source of pride and joy to our neighbors.

“As a ministry that started on the barrier island, we feel blessed to have been able to acquire this particular property,” he added. “And we’re going to make the necessary investment to ensure the finished building will be beautiful and that the grounds will be properly maintained.

“We want the church to add something to the community and be a good neighbor to the people here.”

In fact, Robbins said the church will not oppose a proposal by city planners, who want to amend the city code to allow new businesses licensed to sell alcoholic beverages to operate within 500 feet of places of worship.

Without the change, which was scheduled for a public hearing during Tuesday’s city council meeting, the city would be unable to grant any new business licenses to restaurants and bars within 500 feet of St. Paul’s – or any other church.

“We will not stand in the way of lifting that ban,” Robbins said.

St. Paul’s had been seeking a permanent home – a larger facility that allowed for expansion, especially for its youth ministry – for more than a year. The church seriously considered relocating to the mainland, where it eyed two more-affordable properties, only for those deals to fall through.

“Even though we started on the island and wanted to stay on the island,” Robbins said, “we didn’t anticipate being able to afford property there.”

Then, earlier this year, a donor stepped forward and gave the church the $1 million it needed to purchase the vacant property at 969-999 Flamevine Lane. Robbins said the donor wishes to remain anonymous.

“The donor had a vision for putting a church on this particular property,” Robbins said. “We closed on July 2, and it’s our goal to open our doors by Sept. 1, 2015. Right now, there’s not much more than a shell of a building, so it’s probably going to take 12 months to finish the construction project.”