A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Visualize this church as a county building

Written July 27th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

The First Evangelical Church at 1332 First Ave. S.E. on June 15, 2023.

On a fine afternoon last month, I stopped the bike in front of the First Evangelical Church in Albany to take a photo. I wondered whatever happened to the congregation’s plan to sell the church, which I had reported in March 2022. Turns out those plans have borne fruit.

On Tuesday, the Linn County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to buy the church property in the Willamette Neighborhood for $1,450,000. Commissioners Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker supported the purchase, and Chairman Roger Nyquist voted no.

I asked Nyquist to explain his vote.

“I do not believe that houses of worship should be turned into government buildings,” he replied by email. “I also think the purchase and use does not meet the intent of the community members who built the place. There had been a deed restriction on the property that required that it be used for church purposes. Where possible and when it makes sense we should honor the wishes of those who came before us that made this community what it is today. I would guess there are other congregations in the community that would be interested in conducting services at that beautiful building.”

The county’s plans are not definite, but there was talk of using the building for various functions of the county health department, perhaps including the food assistance program for mothers, infants and children.

As earnest money, the county agreed to make a $50,000 deposit. It will forfeit the money if the county declines to go through with the purchase.

The property covers the entire block between First and Second avenues and Pine and Oak streets. It includes the 17,000-square-foot church built in the early 1950s, a single-family residence used as the parsonage, a parking lot with about 50 spaces, and a small park along the Oak Street side.

The property is split between two residential zones. The north half including the church is zoned single-family, the other half medium-density residential.

To use the property for the health department or any other government program, Linn County would have to obtain a conditional use permit. Requests for conditional use permits are handled by the Albany Planning Commission or a smaller hearings board, usually after a public hearing.

The minister told me last year that the church no longer needed all the space in the building and that a portion of the congregation was attending services online. You can read the background here.

Whatever happens on that block in old Albany’s east end when the county takes over, the neighborhood should expect there to be a significant change. (hh)

The story has been edited to include Nyquist’s explanation.

11 responses to “Visualize this church as a county building”

  1. Katherine says:

    BIG purchase.
    Shouldn’t ALL the commissioners have been required to vote?
    2-1 super small margin.

  2. Sam P says:

    I would like to see some roads repaired first.

  3. Diane Branson says:

    I see huge expenses in the future. ADA compliance, current and future repairs, zoning, telecommunications costs (phones, internet), possible safety updates, security, utility costs, to name a few.

  4. Bob Woods says:

    Take the cross off, and any other, religious symbols, and use it for the benefit of the community, including Atheists.

  5. Gary Walter says:

    Churches are decreasing in attendance, membership, and relevance. Thousands are closing every year.

    Old churches make great restaurants, activity centers, charter schools, etc.

  6. Bill Kapaun says:

    “The county’s plans are not definite, but there was talk of using the building for…..”
    One would expect the County to have more definite plans than this.

    What’s the cost of remodeling to suit?

  7. Heather Dillon says:

    I agree with Roger.

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      I agree with Roger’s sentiments, but I doubt that any kind of “suitable congregation” in our area can afford to buy an entire block. If they sold the strip (park?) and “parson’s residence” separately, they still have a 17,000 sq. ft. building + parking lot.

      Early 50’s construction means energy inefficient and a VERY distinct possibility of asbestos. I hope the County doesn’t get us in to an expensive remodeling that goes way over any “predicted” budget. I have a feeling the County would be better off to call it a $50k mistake and back out. That’s pretty piddly compared to what our Mayor/City Council has cost us in real estate transactions.


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