GORHAM – A Gorham church that sold its parsonage several years ago is now seeking permission to build a new one for a future pastor as its current minister nears retirement.

Cressey Road United Methodist Church is asking the Gorham Planning Board for permission to split off a lot from its 11.5-acre site at 81 Cressey Road for a parsonage.

The move is a return to a tradition of churches in Maine providing houses for pastors.

Tom Poirier, Gorham’s town planner, said on Wednesday that the request for a parsonage marks the first one in his nine years in the Planning Department.

The Gorham church relocated to the Cressey Road site several years ago, changed its name and sold its former church building after nearly 130 years at 29 School St., in Gorham. The church previously had sold its parsonage on College Avenue.

Den Morton, chairman of the church’s board of trustees, said this week it no longer needed a parsonage when the church’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Linwood Arnold, bought his own home in another community after living a short time in the parsonage.

“We sold the parsonage and invested the funds,” Morton said.

But now, Arnold is retiring in June and the church body has voted to build a parsonage, said Morton. Plans are for a three-bedroom, single-story ranch-style house with lines that complement the church structure and fit in with the neighborhood, said Morton.

Morton described the proposed parsonage as a “quality” building, but declined to reveal a cost.

“We have a budget we’re trying to work with,” Morton said. “We’re trying to build a nice home.”

The church will go to the Planning Board at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, to ask for permission to subdivide the existing church lot for a parsonage. David Galbraith, Gorham’ zoning administrator, said the town has received plans “proposing to create a 33,715-square-foot lot on Cressey Road.”

The property is in the urban residential zoning district. Steven Doe, a landscape architect at Sebago Technics, will represent the church at the Planning Board meeting. The church will hire a general contractor to build the parsonage, Morton said.

Gorham’s assistant tax assessor, Tom Pawlowski, said a parsonage would receive an $18,000 property tax exemption from the assessed value that includes land and buildings. As an example, Pawlowski said, if the assessed value were $118,000, the church would pay taxes on $100,000.

A new parsonage would be the second in the history of the church.

Its former School Street church, built in 1880, was sold in April 2007 and converted under private ownership for use as an event venue. It is now named Spire 29 on the Square.

According to a church timeline on its website, construction of the church’s new building got under way in the spring of 2006, and church officials consecrated its partially finished facility in March 2007. The sanctuary was completed in December of that year.

Since moving, the church’s attendance at services has risen to as many as 220 from 120 worshipers at services on School Street, according to Morton. He said a vacation Bible school at the new church has attracted 200 kids and 80 adults.

The Cressey Road location, off Route 25 and a short distance west of Gorham Village, has an ample parking lot, while parking at its former site was limited to on-street parking.

Morton said groups including Scouts, 4-H, a cancer prayer support ministry, and Alcoholics Anonymous, meet in the new church, which also has a food ministry. Morton attributes growth of the church to Arnold.

“He’s taught a lot of people how to lead a better life,” Morton said. “He’s one of my best friends.”

Now, the church is taking steps to make a home available for Arnold’s successor, and church committees have studied the parsonage proposal.

Morton said church officials have “thought long and hard” about the matter.

“(The church) felt at this point it would behoove us to have a place,” Morton said.

The Cressey Road United Methodist Church is seeking permission from Gorham to subdivide the church lot to build a parsonage.

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