Church's decision will affect new development construction

Oak Ridge church's decision will affect new development construction

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The church is filled with history and memories and the 250-member congregation faces a tough decision. The church is filled with history and memories and the 250-member congregation faces a tough decision.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Final plans are in the works for a new Kroger marketplace and shopping center in Oak Ridge. But first, a church that's more than 50 years old must decide whether to sell its property to make way for the development.

The Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church is along busy Illinois Avenue. But the congregation must decide whether to stay put or sell their land.

"We're getting ready by the end of this month to take a vote," said Rev. Jake Morrill.

The church is filled with history and memories and the 250-member congregation faces a tough decision.

"We are well practiced with being in conversation with each other on difficult questions and on things that not everyone sees the same," Rev. Morrill said. "One of the leading lines in our faith is, we need not think alike to love alike."

The developers have already acquired 55 homes, two hotels and a restaurant nearby for the project. It's expected to bring 250 jobs to the community.

"We think it will bring traffic. We think it will promote retail sales. It will promote cross shopping districts in the community," said Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce CEO Parker Hardy.

If the church decides not to sell and to remain in its home of more than 50 years, the developers will still build the marketplace. However, it will have an alternative layout.

"There is a plan B allowing them to accomplish most of what they want to do without the church," Hardy said. The property would be built around the church, meaning fewer stores in the complex.

But whether the church stays or goes, Rev. Morrill says it will be a new chapter for the congregation.

"Our ministry of compassion and justice is going to continue no matter where we are, and a changed context with new neighbors will mean new opportunities and different meaning perhaps, but our ministry is going to go on wherever we are," he said.

The church will make a decision by the end of September.

Construction is set to begin this winter and if everything goes as planned, the shopping complex should open by 2014.

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