Historic church rezoning
By Gus Pearcy
An historic church in Avon could soon become a funeral home within weeks if a south side Indianapolis director gets a rezone approved. Paul St. Pierre from Wilson St. Pierre Funeral Services and Crematory hopes to transform the Grace Bible Church building on the east edge of Avon into a Simplicity Funeral and Cremation brand home. He has cleared one hurdle — a zoning change from agriculture residential to neighborhood business — but not without some local opposition from the neighbors.
St. Pierre is a sixth generation funeral director who owns 11 homes in Central Indiana, including the Porter and St. Pierre Funeral home in North Salem. Three years ago, he created Simplicity Funeral and Cremation in Zionsville and is hoping to transform the Avon church into the second location.
“We are excited about being able to offer the lowest funeral cost in Hendricks County, especially in a building this historic,” St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre said Simplicity reduces costs by doing a few things differently. For instance, funerals are primarily Mondays through Fridays and all in one day.
“Our brand focuses on keeping burial costs low, and a cremation cost that is more than $1,000 less than most area funeral homes,” St. Pierre said.
The quaint structure at 751 N. CR 1050 E is one of the three oldest churches in Hendricks County. A church has graced the property since 1822. The current building was built in 1927 after a devastating fire. It was Shiloh United Methodist Church until 1998. It sat empty for a year before becoming Grace Bible Church.
The plan commission sent a favorable recommendation to the county commissioners, but in the motion prohibited the construction of a crematorium. St. Pierre said the company has a crematory on the south side, and he has no intentions of building one on the Grace church site.
He said the zoning classification in the notification sent to nearby property owners specifically mentioned crematory, but there won’t be one.
“We believe a lot of the confusion for some of the area residents is when they saw the word crematory, they thought we were putting one in,” St. Pierre said. “We’re not.”
Grace Bible Church is ceasing operations because of the pandemic and a majority of aging congregation members. St. Pierre knew the pastor who tipped him off of the impending sale of the building. The funeral director plans to pave the gravel parking lot and outfit the building with cameras. He said he is proud of his record of maintaining classic buildings.
Although the cemetery borders the church property to the north, the cemetery is not part of the purchase. The pioneer cemetery is run by an independent association. St. Pierre said he would work with the association to maintain the cemetery, which has a Revolutionary War soldier buried there.
“We want to be helpful to them,” St. Pierre said. “We have ‘chatted’ with them about helping them maintain it because our history as a funeral home will only help support their needs.”
Three subdivisions surround the church. Charlotte Martin is the president of homeowners association of Ashton, and many of the neighborhood’s 90 homes sit across from the church. She is concerned about traffic on 1050 E.
“It’s not a road for businesses,” Martin said. “There’s not even a stripe down the middle of the road, and there are no street lights.”
The road dead ends at U.S. 36, and goes up to County Road 200 N. It has a narrow bridge, and getting to the church can happen at a crossover from Ronald Reagan Parkway, where Martin is concerned about potential accidents at the intersection that has no traffic light, or the roundabout on 10th Street near I.U. Health West Hospital.
There are homes all along the road and farm fields nearby.
“If you rezone it to be business, then that leads to future businesses,” Martin added. “It is not a business road.”
The other two subdivisions are Shiloh Creek and the Reserve at Shiloh Creek.
Right now, St. Pierre said 60% of his clients opt for cremation, and the majority of cremations do not have a service or celebration of life, even though he encourages it. He has seen his business grow 50% over the past year.
If the Hendricks County Commissioners approve the zoning change, the company must still go before the Board of Zoning Appeals. If all is approved, St. Pierre expects to open the building by the end of February.