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First Baptist Church Developer 'Considering All Options' For Building

Developer Wally Smerconish said the fate of the church "is uncertain," and is considering renting, selling, or demolishing the building.

Developer Wally Smerconish has officially bought and is considering "all options" for what to do with the space, including renting out the space, selling the church or demolishing it. 

First Baptist Church, located at St. Pauls Road and E Athens Avenue in Ardmore, went on the market last July because its congregation—about a dozen members in all—could no longer support it.

In spring, Smerconish presented plans to the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board with hopes of converting the church . His plans were , because multi-family dwellings are not permitted under the site's R-4 zoning, and the board found that Smerconish had failed to adequately show that the site could not be developed as is.

Smerconish for the church in July, simultaneously appealing the board's decision in court.

Up until a few weeks ago, Smerconish was the contract buyer of the site. In early August, however, the First Baptist Church congregation officially sold the church to the developer. According to Smerconish, the church held its final service about two weeks ago. Church representatives have been unavailable for comment.

"I do own the church and the fate of it is uncertain," Smerconish said in an interview Monday.

Smerconish said he is "exhausting all his options" for what to do with the space.

The developer said he's open to the idea of selling the church to someone who would use it as a single-family home. Another idea is a timeshare, in which multiple congregations could use the building at scheduled times on Sunday and throughout the week, along with something like a daycare running Monday through Friday, Smerconish said.

Demolition of the 1920s greystone building is another option. Smerconish said he has an offer from a builder who wants to erect two homes on the site.

Smerconish said, though, that he would rather keep the church standing. For one, a large majority of neighbors would like to see the building stay. Plus, "the salvage value of the church is zero—there's no market for the stone," Smerconish said.

It's a difficult predicament, especially in an age when many churches, not just those in Lower Merion, are closing.

Of course, whether Smerconish should have known what he was getting himself into, coming to the township with a plan that required multi-family dwellings for a space that prohibits them. 

"I do a lot of due diligence," Smerconish said in response to neighbors' criticisms. "But frankly, I just assumed, perhaps naively, that the Zoning Hearing Board would grant the reuse."

Multi-family dwellings may at some point become permissible for churches like First Baptist, .

When asked if he would consider waiting for the conversion to pass before acting, Smerconish gave a simple "No."

"We’re talking about a township that hasn’t updated its Comprehensive Plan  since the 70s," Smerconish elaborated, when asked. "I think it would not be practical to wait until an uncertain date [to act]. I’m a business person; ... I’ve gone out of my way to save that church; but at some point that won’t be practical."

Smerconish has been making efforts to seek options besides demolition, including listing the church on Craigslist for sale or lease.

"[I'd consider] everything from a food bank to a workshare to other smaller congregations: there's still opportunity for someone to buy the church and live in it, too," Smerconish said. "I want to resolve this in the community's interest and in my interest."

See also:

  • (July 6, 2012)
  • (June 21, 2012)
  • (May 18, 2012)
  • (May 3, 2012)
  • (Jan. 5, 2012)

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C Martin August 14, 2012 at 10:34 AM
I think the township should be bending over backwards to save this church. There are many many multi family dwellings in the nearby neighborhoods. This church is a treasure that should be preserved.
Allie Hayes August 14, 2012 at 01:47 PM
We have a church in our neighborhood which is a doctor's office during the week.
Aliza Schlabach August 14, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I have some interest in this church for Coworking For Parents (Juice Box), but was told that we would not be able to acquire zoning for the coworking side of the business (only the childcare).
tinjay August 15, 2012 at 03:03 PM
My church: The Believer's Evangelical Fellowship International has given Mr Smercornish the option of renting it to us for a reasonable fee. Understandably he would want to pay off the monthly purchase costs of the building from rent income, but having said that, the reason why First Baptist gave up on it in the first place was that it was generally no longer financially viable with the old church paradigm. We would generally resuscitate every thing that a church is supposed to do for its surrounding community if we took over that building. But we might not be able to meet the expectations of a businessman in terms of his anticipated rental income. Time share? I doubt it for many congregations because of the general location. Churches that would want to do that are mostly ethnic oriented; Koreans, Africans South Americans, Carribean. We would rather have the neighbors come into the church than bus in strangers. Still waiting for Wally to get back at some time. This is the best solution for the neighborhood and the church building. For Mr Smercornish who is the new owner, would probably just have to decide that for himself.
Wally Smerconish August 16, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Who are you? When and what did you offer? Wally
Carla Zambelli August 17, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Tinjay, "ethnic oriented"? Have you even been to Ardmore? It is a wonderful mix of people of many ages, races, religious beliefs. It is what in part makes it so cool. http://www.thebelieversfellowship.com/ According to your website you all claim to heal cancer over the phone. That's a neat trick but utterly unbelievable. Faith alone does not heal cancer. You don't like your home in Upper Darby?

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