Tenants fretting their future
Guerneville’s venerable Community Church property is up for sale, leaving a half dozen social service tenants uncertain about their future at the 2.5-acre property on Armstrong Woods Road.
The West County Community Services Empowerment Center, a free-food pantry, and non-profit FM radio KGGV (“The Bridge”) are among the permanent tenants renting church space.
However, a dwindling congregation and the expense of replacing the church’s damaged bridge across Fife Creek are taking a financial toll resulting in the decision to put the church property up for sale, said church representative Kit Mariah.
“We have not been able to resolve the bridge problem,” said Mariah. “We’re just not equipped. We don’t have the personnel.”
Mariah said she is reluctant to announce an asking price yet for the property, which has not been publicly listed. The market value will be affected because of lost parking access and the uncertain cost of solving the bridge problem, said Mariah.
When the property is listed it will be with Debra Johnson at Guerneville’s Berkshire Hathaway real estate office, said Mariah.
Mariah said the church hopes to find a buyer that can fix the bridge and allow existing tenants to continue renting.
“Otherwise all these groups will have to relocate,” she said.
The church property also houses social service providers such as the St. Vincent de Paul—Salvation Army food pantry, weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and the West County Community Services Empowerment Center, which offers daily self-help services and programs for people with mental illness and disabilities.
With the bridge was closed to vehicles, pantry volunteers have carried food on carts and wheelbarrows, and musicians performing at music concerts have lugged instruments and sound equipment from Armstrong Woods Road over the pedestrian bridge.
When the bridge over the creek at the entrance to the church parking lot was found unsafe for vehicle traffic last year, Mariah said “we thought it was just a matter of going to the county and applying for a permit” for repairs.
Instead, they found the old timber bridge needs to be replaced with a new span that meets fire protection load requirements, projected to cost more than $100,000 and require federal, state and county permits and environmental studies.
The loss of vehicular access to the church parking lot has hit church revenues and activities, including the number of days when people book the church’s Birkhofer Hall for weddings, concerts and community fundraisers.
“We’re not in a position financially to deal with it,” said Mariah. “It’s going to take someone who’s better connected to solve this problem.”
Up until last year the church property was also on a county short list of sites under consideration for a permanent Russian River area homeless services center, but opposition from the next door Guerneville School, scuttled that possibility.
With the bridge closed to car traffic and little parking for special events, rentals have declined, said Mariah. The Dec. 23 holiday concert by the River Choir is the only event remaining on this year’s calendar.
The church still holds Sunday services that attract a small but loyal congregation, now down to about a dozen people from approximately 100 in the church’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mariah said the church’s “small band of disciples” will find a new home, but “we don’t intend to close the church.”
“We can rent the senior center, or go to someone’s house,” said Mariah, who noted the church has been serving Guerneville since 1895.