People who claim they are members of a run-down and vacant-looking Sandy Springs church on Mitchell Road say they own the church property their former bishop is trying to sell.
Arrowhead Real Estate Partners stirred up the legal controversy when it presented plans to put single family homes on the 2.4-acre lot at 5975 Mitchell Road.
The developer has a contract to purchase the lot, which has been advertised for sale at $1 million. The church’s members said they do not want to sell and weren’t informed about the deal.
Neighbors complain the development would be too dense. There also have been questions raised about whether the building has historic value. Currently the development is working its way through the city’s zoning process.
Bryan Flint, vice president of Arrowhead Real Estate, said on July 5 he is trying to sort everything out.
“It’s a mess,” Flint said.
Church members released a statement to the media on July 4 saying the church isn’t closed, contrary to earlier claims by the developer that the congregation no longer meets there. When a reporter visited the church site in April, the building was closed and choked by overgrowing vegetation.
Property records show St. James Anglican Church Inc. owns the property. In June the church members filed paperwork with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, removing the old board of St. James Anglican Church Inc. and naming themselves the nonprofit board’s new officers.
The old board included the former bishop, Vincent Thakore, who died in 2008. His son, Sanjay, became bishop when Vincent Thakore died.
Repeated attempts to reach Sanjay Thakore for comment have been unsuccessful. Flint said that the bishop has hired an attorney to investigate the church members’ claims.
Church members said Sanjay Thakore no longer attends services and hasn’t been an active member for years.
“Bishop Sanjay abandoned the church,” said William Lundquist, the church’s senior warden.
Lundquist since the beginning of the controversy has been involved with an effort to save the church and claimed the church had historic value. He says he is the grandson of the late Bishop Frank Benning, who presided over St. James until 2000.
Lundquist said that while the congregation dwindled, it met sporadically and a visiting clergyman preformed services.
Judging by the building’s appearance, it looks as if churchgoers had abandoned the church as well.
When asked why church members didn’t take care of the property, he said the smaller, older flock had limited resources. He said the old church vestry, the church’s governing board, departed along with Sanjay Thakore.
“The reason it was so disorganized is the membership did not understand they had the power to make decisions,” Lundquist said.
Flint said the church members’ story doesn’t add up. He said the church is clearly abandoned and that he personally mowed the grass on the property two weeks ago.
He said Sanjay Thakore is the property’s rightful owner.
“We ran title before we ever put it under contract,” Flint said.