Opponents of a pending deal to sell a historic Port Royal church will have more time to make their case.
The town of Port Royal apparently didn't follow proper procedure in approving the sale of Union Church to St. Mark's Episcopal Church earlier this year, a point raised by Port Royal resident Mare Deckard during a Town Council workshop Wednesday.
Council members voted in March to allow town manager Van Willis to negotiate the deal. Willis said during the meeting Wednesday that because the sale was on the agenda as a council action, approval only needed one vote.
But state law requires municipalities to sell public property by ordinance, a procedure requiring two council votes and a public hearing. After reviewing the state code after the meeting Wednesday, Willis said the town will probably have to approve the sale as an ordinance.
That means an initial closing date of July 1 could be postponed until mid-July or August, depending on how the meetings are scheduled, Willis said.
The postponement is a victory for those who spoke in opposition to the deal Wednesday.
Church leaders have said they will work to preserve the historic structure and public access to the building. Town residents opposed to the deal want it to remain a public asset and are concerned about proposed structural changes.
The extra time could allow for a compromise between St. Mark's and those opposing the sale, Mayor Sam Murray said.
"'It's not something we've got to rush through," Murray said. "If there's concern, we want to try to satisfy as many citizens as possible."
St. Mark's is prepared to buy the church from the town for $160,000, its appraised value. The church plans to eventually remove an interior wall to create more space and build an additional building behind the church.
Those who spoke against the sale Wednesday asked for the deal to be postponed, questioned why the church hadn't been offered for public bid, said the appraised value seemed too low and worried about the effect of the planned structural changes on the historic integrity of the building. Union Church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Murray said an official with the State Historic Preservation Office will visit the church and assess whether the interior wall is original.
Mike Jones, recently elected president of the Historic Port Royal Foundation, said Union Church represents one of the few remaining historic buildings in the town the public can walk in and experience and shouldn't be sold.
"It's made for everybody to use," said Jones, who has always lived on the same 11th Street block as the church.
Rev. Roy Tripp, St. Mark's pastor, said the church agrees the community should have access to the building. He has said the church will accommodate public events when possible.
In response to a question about the sale process, Willis said this was the first time he had been involved in a sale of town property. He said the town had been involved in other property deals, "but live and learn."
The town approached the church about a potential sale after St. Mark's had been renting the sanctuary for its Sunday services the past nine years.
Willis noted during the meeting Wednesday that the prospect of selling the church had been a topic at past town planning retreats.
Town officials say proceeds from the sale could go toward costs to restore and relocate Porter's Chapel. The town plans to renovate and stabilize the AME church, convert the building into a visitor's center and Reconstruction Era national monument interpretive center and move it to Naval Heritage Park.
Union Church was built by the community in 1878 to serve the town's white residents. It has since been used for a variety of community events.
Port Royal has owned Union Church since the early 1990s, when it took over from trustees in order to ensure the church was preserved and restored. Historic Port Royal Foundation, which operates out of the church, helped oversee work to the building and established a museum of Port Royal's history in a back room.
Linda Davis, foundation secretary and docent at the church, said the organization is tied to the church and that if Historic Port Royal Foundation reaches a point it can no longer care for the building, its members should be able to decide whether to sell.
"It is our base," she said during the town meeting.