Church to buy Beth El property The synagogue will leave Chapel Avenue. It will sell the site to a charismatic Christian congregation.

Posted: January 24, 2009

Cherry Hill's oldest Conservative synagogue expects to close a deal within weeks to sell its Chapel Avenue property to help finance its impending move to Voorhees.

Congregation Beth El's buyer - a mystery since the "sold" sign went up - appears to be the nondenominational and charismatic Impacting Your World Christian Center of Philadelphia.

The church held a New Year's service at Beth El and has a picture of a synagogue on its Web site - www.iywcc.org - matching the Colliers' real estate ad for the Beth El temple.

Citing a confidentiality agreement, the synagogue's leaders and its real estate agent declined to identify the buyer before settlement, which is expected within 30 days. Impacting Your World pastors did not return repeated calls for comment.

"I don't know why it's so secret," said Greg Bruno, one of three neighbors who sued last year to block a previous purchase offer. "We just want nice neighbors."

The neighbors stopped a plan to build about 90 townhouses on Beth El's property. They argued that more houses would increase traffic and burden the school district.

"We're out of space in our elementary schools," said Bruno, whose daughter is a senior at Cherry Hill High School West, just blocks from the synagogue.

A Superior Court judge ruled in June that the property must be used for institutional purposes, such as a school, place of worship, medical offices or community center.

The densely populated neighborhood already contains an elementary school, high school, hospital, township library, churches, and several apartment complexes.

Bruno said he would welcome another house of worship. "I'll be grateful if it's not homes," he said.

Beth El plans to finance about 25 percent of up to $18 million to build a 1,200-seat sanctuary, 500-person social hall, coffee bar and administrative offices with the sale of the Chapel Avenue property, which is assessed at $9.9 million. The remainder was raised through congregant donations, said Eric S. Boory, president of the board of trustees. Construction is expected to be complete by April 5.

Containing a gymnasium and a school, the 10-acre Chapel Avenue site is larger and more complex than many churches need, said Marc Isdaner of Colliers' Commercial & Industrial Realtors. "It takes a little more sophistication and financial wherewithal to put together a deal," he said.

Also, the poor economy impedes nonprofit fund-raising, he said.

Impacting Your World is a 2,500-member congregation led by Ray Barnard and his wife, Tracey. Barnard, who attended Oral Roberts University, also does television and radio broadcasts.

In 2004, the church failed to expand into the West Mount Airy section of Philadelphia when several neighbor associations opposed its plan to demolish historical buildings. It has campuses in Germantown and Northeast Philadelphia.

The 88-year-old synagogue, which originated in the Parkside section of Camden, is following its members east.

Congregation Beth El "enjoyed about 30 very successful years at 2901 W. Chapel Ave.," Boory said. But many young Jewish families now settle in eastern Cherry Hill, Voorhees and Evesham.

To meet their needs, the 950-family congregation built a preschool, day care and religious school at Main Street in Voorhees 10 years ago with the hope of further expansion.

The goal now, Boory said, is to "pray, learn and socialize all in one location."

Contact staff writer Cynthia Henry at 856-779-3970 or chenry@phillynews.com.

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