Selling South Hall? St. Stephen’s proposes parking lot relocation

South Hall of St. Stephen's Church is a three story house with a semi-circular driveway in front of it. Church leaders are exploring a possible sale of the building.

South Hall of St. Stephen's Church is a three story house with a semi-circular driveway in front of it. Church leaders are exploring a possible sale of the building.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

South Hall of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is a gray wood-frame house south of the church’s century-old stone sanctuary on the fringe of the Main Street commercial district, and church leaders are looking into a possible sale of the little-used residential building.

A proposal to relocate St. Stephen’s parking lot — shifting it a little northward on the church’s six-acre Main Street campus — will be presented to a public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board next Tuesday, Sept. 24, on a hearing night that starts at 7:30 in the town hall annex.

The relocation of the parking lot would make a possible future division of land and sale of South Hall more practical, as some of the church’s parking is now behind the residential building.

St. Stephen’s Pastor Whitney Altopp told The Press on Monday, Sept. 16, that the applications before town land use authorities are part of church leaders’ efforts to get a full and realistic picture of both costs and benefits of a possible sale.

That’s also the situation as she described it to The Press back in June.

At that time, discussion of a possible sale in minutes of a church vestry meeting had prompted a sudden blossoming of interest among parishioners which crossed over to local social media sites, where speculation flourished.

Town review

Altopp said then that any potential sale of church property would require many steps and levels of review. Among them are approvals from Planning and Zoning of any land division — the realignment of the parking lot that’s going to hearing Sept. 24 could be a precursor to that.

The property is in the town’s historic district and any proposal affecting the streetscape as seen from Main Street — altering the exterior of the building, or tearing it down, neither of which the church is proposing — would require review by the town Historic District Commission.

Local church leaders aren’t committed to its sale, though they are studying the idea, Altopp said. This has meant working with an attorney and an architect as well as town land use officials, and seeking answers to questions. What approvals would be necessary for a sale? What would the costs be? What’s South Hall’s potential market value?

Church votes

In addition to the government approvals, the Rev. Altopp has said there are numerous church procedures — votes by different bodies, including the parish itself — that would be part of making a decision to pursue a sale of any part of the church’s campus.

“We hold the property in trust of the Episcopal Diocese (the Episcopal Church in Connecticut). So, there are several significant steps between now and putting the property up for sale,” she said.

“First, we have to do all of the research. Second, the vestry, after looking at the research, will determine whether or not to recommend to the parish the sale of the property. Third, it has to go before a vote of the parish. Fourth, if that vote passes, we have to get permission from our diocesan leadership,” the Rev. Altopp said. “We are exploring whether or not the sale of South Hall is a good idea.”