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Killing Time

Court holds off church demolition until December hearing.

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Attorneys for CVS Pharmacy and St. Luke's United Methodist Church called last week's injunction hearing over the proposed demolition of a historic Midtown church a "desperate effort."

The parties involved will have to wait until December 16th to see if they're right.

It's the latest in the controversy over the Union Avenue United Methodist church property at the corner of Union and Cooper. The church's remaining 20 congregants joined St. Luke's earlier this year and decided to sell the property to CVS. Although the development was rejected by the Land Use Control Board, it was approved by the City Council in August.

Shelby County chancellor Walter Evans held his decision last week, prohibiting arguments from either side until mid-December. Preliminary arguments were submitted, however, and each centered on a different portion of the 1912 deed that transferred the property to the trustees of the church.

The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Webb Brewer, are heirs to the women who originally owned the property. Their argument is based on a clause in the deed that says the "premises shall be used, kept, maintained and disposed of as a place of divine worship." The defendants are represented by attorney Henry Shelton, who cited the second part of the clause that reads "subject to the discipline, usage and ministerial appointments of said church."

Shelton called the clause "standard practice" for United Methodist deeds and said there were local cases in which a church sold property for secular purposes despite inclusion of the clause.

The most heated part of the debate, however, centered on what each side considered "irreparable harm." Brewer argued that the building's demolition would cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. The addition of another pharmacy to the area, which already boasts a nearby Walgreens and Rite-Aid, would not equal the harm caused by destroying a church on the National Historic Register.

Shelton pointed out that the $2.3 million the congregation expected to receive from CVS has already been earmarked for community ministry. "It would leave my client stuck with a 100-year-old, deteriorating, crumbling structure to maintain and insure," Shelton said, "and leave that money on the table, not to be used to take care of the people in Memphis and Shelby County who need it. Now that's irreparable harm."

The chancellor will hear the arguments December 16th.

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