The Avon Board of Commissioners voted this week to buy the First Baptist Church at the corner of Fifth and Sylvania Avenues. It has been for sale for over a year.
Representatives from the church contacted the borough asking if they would like to buy the building and the parsonage, located next door said Mayor Robert Mahon.
“They approached the borough and we took a look at it,” Mahon said.
Mahon said the purchase includes the church and the parsonage next door, which are situated on two build-able lots.
It was originally on the market for $1.8 million and the borough is proposing a sale price of $1.2 million.
“They would very much like to see the borough buy it,” Mahon said.
“We took a very hard look at it, did a lot of research to see what limitation are on the property and it came out clean. We feel it’s a prime location in the community,” he said.
Mahon also said borough officials will look at whether or not it would be a viable building which could be used in some capacity by the town, but if not, both lots, which total 100 feet by 140 feet, will be sold.
“We are very confident if nothing came of it, we could turn it around and recoup more…at least the amount we paid for it. We think it’s in the best interest of the community to buy it,” he said.
Mahon said the borough will issue a short term bond and as soon as any revenue came from the site the debt will be paid off. He noted that the sale of properties will bring in tax revenue and give the borough control of what will be constructed there.
Steve Mazouat, of Woodland Avenue, asked why the board thought they would have more luck selling the property when the church could not sell it over the past year.
Borough Administrator Tim Gallagher said private buyers would have to secure a mortgage and apply for a subdivision, which would be harder for an individual to do.
“We don’t have to get a mortgage and don’t have to subdivide it,” he said.
Mahon acknowledged that the purchase of the church, which was built in the 1880s, is a bit out of the ordinary.
“This is a small town and it’s not usual municipal business, but it’s been sitting empty and we’d like to see something positive done with it,” Mahon said.
Commissioner Frank Gorman reminded everyone that the borough made similar purchases in the past when it bought The Buckingham hotel in 1993 and the land where the new marina is located.
“Those were taxable properties and now they are an asset to the municipality,” he said, referring to the fact that the church is a non taxable property.
Other residents asked if the buildings would be torn down and a field left there for borough use.
Although the mayor said the borough has not decided how the property will be used, he said the cleanest way to proceed would be to create a buildable lot at the site.
“Using it as a municipal resource, we don’t see the need for that. It would be expensive to refurbish – my thought is to create a sale-able piece of property,” he said.
In response to a resident’s question regarding the demolition, Gallagher said that cost would also be included in the bond ordinance.
Gorman said if the church is indeed demolished it would be done respectfully.
“I’m not enthralled will demolishing a house of worship, but if we do our due diligence and follow that course of action there are ways to do it with the utmost respect. We would sell the windows to other churches,” he said.
Gorman, who is a borough fire fighter, said after the artifacts are removed the building should come down “easily.”
Borough Attorney Barry Cooke said the contract for the sale has been sent to the attorney representing the church with contingencies including securing the bond, a site inspection and production of a clear title.
“The church has an interesting title history, they are going to great lengths to produce a clear title,” he said.
Also at the meeting commissioners approved an amendment to the budget bringing the total budget down to $5.2 million from $7.7 million due to an unanticipated increase of $2.5 million in FEMA aid from Superstorm Sandy. The change did not affect the amount being raised by taxes, which represented an increase of 0.5 cents per $100.
In other business the board renewed it’s contract with New Jersey American Water for a five year term with subsequent five year renewals.
The main difference in the new contract, said Cooke is that billing will now be in 100 gallon increments instead of 1000 gallon increments.
“Now if you are billed for 1100 gallons you pay for 1100 gallons as opposed to 2000,” Cooke said.
Commissioners also approved a hazard mitigation ordinance that allows the borough to be reimbursed by FEMA if they provide emergency mutual aid to other towns during a declared state of emergency.
“Before they would be doing it out of the goodness of our hearts and we would not get reimbursed,” Gallagher said.
Gorman said once passed, it will include towns statewide and even nationwide.
Gorman also read a statement from Kathy Klug regarding the upcoming Paint the Town Pink campaign which will be in effect for the month of May.
This is the third year in a row that the borough has participated, she said, with almost 100 percent participation this year.
Pink balloons and banners will be supplied to any business or group wishing to participate.
For more information visit pinkbythesea.com.