Town run partly by Indianapolis wants more say in its fate

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A battle over the fate of a century-old church on Indianapolis' far-eastside is highlighting a political divide created four decades ago.

The Town of Cumberland is appealing plans to demolish the St. John United Church of Christ to make way for a convenience store and gas station. But even though the property falls within the town's corporate limits, Town Manager Andrew J. Klinger says its fate is largely out of the town's control.

Cumberland straddles the Marion and Hancock county lines. On its Hancock County side, it provides police protection and planning for streets, parks and redevelopment. The church, however, is on the Marion County side, which is overseen by Indianapolis under the Unigov system adopted in the 1970s to consolidate services provided by Indianapolis and Marion County.

Town officials say Cumberland's status as an "included town" under Unigov prevents it from having a say in the discussions about the church and leaves interpretations about the town's comprehensive plan to Indianapolis officials.

"Forty-five years ago, no one would have foreseen a situation like this," Klinger. "''We should have more say in what happens in our town."

The church's congregation has dwindled, and it needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and renovations. A plan to sell the church in 2010 fell through when Indianapolis gave the building landmark status. The church sued, and a 2011 settlement gave Indiana Landmarks six months to find a buyer to save the building.

No buyer came forward, and the city removed the building's landmark status as part of the settlement.

The congregation already has plans to build a new church at another location and has agreed to sell the property to Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission was scheduled to consider a rezoning request on Wednesday that would have moved the church closer to demolition, but City-County Councilor Ben Hunter requested a postponement until March 18 to allow time for the parties involved to discuss the matter.

Klinger said the battle over the church has raised larger issues about the town's ability to set its own course.

"Our long-term goal is to have more say in decisions that affect our residents," he said.

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