Airdrie resident Bob Cornish, whose family has been involved with the Airdrie United Church for over six decades is speaking out about plans of the selling of the Church's property and the potential for an adult care facility to be developed on the site.  

For Cornish, the church's building has been a place where some of his life's most significant milestones have taken place. He and his wife were married in the church over 45 years ago and his four daughters were baptized in the church. However, he underlined that the church, with less than 50 members in its congregation is not in a financial position to be able to fund renovations of the building.

"We understand that the foundation is not going to last forever; it may not fall down this year, but, inevitably, it's not going to last forever. Our congregation has dwindled in size to the point where we don't have the financial backing to maintain or even support the two buildings in there. So, we've come to the realization [and] accepted that something else has to be done," he said. "The last 20 years [we] have been running in the red. It's heartbreaking that we have to do that, but reality is reality."

Cornish said that foundational issues have persisted for years, including the need for sump pumps during years when there is more precipitation. While he said that this year has been exceptionally dry, he underlined that it's a matter of time before even more problems occur. 

"I honestly believe this is just a cycle - we've seen it before. It will come back and we'll get into those wet years again, when the sump pumps will be running. There's a lot of groundwater around that whole area and it's just deteriorated that foundation. Over 100 years ago, the quality of the cement wasn't what it is today."

When asked what his response would be to some of the residents in The Village who have expressed dismay at the development, he said that he shares their disappointment.

"We are aware that neighbours are upset about it and I absolutely agree that it's a shame to destroy such a historic capacity. It's one of the oldest buildings, but the reality is, that we do have not enough income to support the church, even the two buildings that we have there. Where are the neighbours for that? Are they chipping in thousands of dollars?"

A year ago, there was a discussion before Airdrie City Council on whether the church would qualify as a heritage site, and it was one of the first things that the church committee examined nearly a decade ago. Although Cornish was not on the committee, he explained that the original building had been remodelled in 1983. 

"The pulpit was on the North end; with the addition going on [at] the North end, the church turned around and now we face South. The whole north end of the building was added on, disrupting the internal structure; and the Alberta Heritage Foundation said that it could not be a heritage site - well,  it could be, but in a very, very limited capacity," Cornish said.

According to Cornish, the only structures that could be considered a heritage site would be the Steeple and the South Wall.

"We found a developer that was willing to build a complex there for local low-income housing, which Airdrie is in desperate need of. We thought [city] council is in favour of it, but when we did go to the council for the land use [amendment], to accommodate the higher building, it got turned down."

In tandem with soliciting whether the site could be classified as a heritage site, the church also reached out to contractors to ask about repairs.

"When contractors came in and looked at it, they said that once you start a major renovation, you've got to upgrade that church; all of that would have cost us millions. If we [were] running this church as a business, [we'd] have been bankrupt years ago." 

City of Airdrie officials confirmed last week that they were aware of the Airdrie United Church site being up for sale and that there is a potential plan to develop supportive housing on the site.

"...and public engagement has begun in preparation for an application submission. During a recent open house, the prospective purchaser mentioned their intention to submit an application for supportive housing on the existing building site. As of now, no application has been submitted," City officials stated.

The City underlined that until an application has been received they cannot provide further details on any ongoing discussions.

"Currently, the lands are zoned 'P1, Public Open Space District,' and supportive housing is not a listed use in that district. To proceed with supportive housing, a land use bylaw amendment is necessary to redistrict/rezone the lands, allowing for a zoning that permits this type of use."

The City also added that a land use bylaw amendment involves a public hearing and Council approval.

"As per legislative requirements, public hearings must be advertised in the local paper, on our website, and notices mailed to all residents within a minimum of 60 meters. Once the land has been redistricted/rezoned, the next step will be obtaining a development permit."

Despite the congregation having shrunken and with financial burdens, Cornish said that the congregation's members have deeply rooted ties to the church, and will continue to meet.

"Absolutely, [they] will move the congregation to somewhere; that process hasn't happened yet, because the sale isn't final. But we hope that the site will be used for something of value, rather than just turned into a business."

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