The Philadelphia Historical Commission met in an executive session before today’s monthly meeting to discuss the pending demolition case of the Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street. After forty minutes, the board officially convened and delivered its opinion that the demolition permit is valid for the present owner.
The Commission chair, Sam Sherman, Jr., stated that the Commission agreed unanimously that the permit, issued to the present owner, John Wei of MJ Central Investments, is subject to the building, not the ownership (for insight on what that means, click HERE), and should be upheld by the Board of L&I Review, which had requested its opinion on the matter on Tuesday.
Sherman clarified that the opinion is just that, an opinion, and that L&I Review retains jurisdiction over the appeal of the permit.
Also present at the session, held behind closed doors, were executive director Jonathan Farnham and City solicitor Andrew Ross. Testimony from the appealing attorney, Samuel Stretton, was also considered in the session, according to Sherman. However, Stretton was not permitted to register his objection to the opinion on record, and no public comments on the case were heard by the board.
The Commission then proceeded to take up its previously scheduled agenda.
Following the opinion, disappointment from preservationists was mixed with some surprise at the way the outcome was reached.
“They [the board members] didn’t say much in there,” noted Andrew Palewski, the Callowhill resident who has been fighting to save the church since its earliest threats of demolition. “It’s not surprising that they decided the way they did, but I would have hoped that they would have offered some supportive arguments.”
Stretton, who is representing the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, said that he is prepared to continue his appeal to the Court of Common Pleas if the L&I Review Board upholds the demolition permit.
“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the Historical Commission has approved a permit during an appeal,” he said, referring to the the granting of Wei’s permit following the Common Pleas October ruling despite Stretton’s pending appeal to the Commonwealth Court.
He held firm to his argument from Tuesday’s Board hearing that the approval of demolition based on financial hardship only applies to Siloam, the nonprofit AIDS wellness organization that no longer owns the church. “It is Mr. Wei’s burden to show that he has a hardship. He can’t.”
Neither Wei nor his attorney, Carl Primavera, were present at the meeting. Andrew Ross could not be reached for immediate comment.
About the author
Christopher Mote is a graduate of Holy Family University and the Creative Writing Program at Temple University. Currently a freelance writer and editor, he lives in South Philadelphia and blogs about art and culture here.