Board Of L&I Review Upholds Stay Of Demolition Of Church Of Assumption–Updated

 

Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

The Board of L&I Review has voted this afternoon to uphold the stay of demolition for the Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street. Board members urged swift action on the appeal in the Commonwealth Court of the City’s ruling to allow demolition. The stay of demolition remains in effect until the Commonwealth Court rules on the owner’s claim of economic hardship that led to the permit for demolition.

This means in effect that even though the church was sold, the present owner, John Wei, is subject to the same appeal of the hardship ruling as was the previous owner, the non-profit Siloam (the appeal to the Commonwealth Court was based on the City permitting Siloam to demolish the church).

Carl Primavera, representing the church owners, said he will request a bond payment through the Court of Common Pleas to cover the risk associated with the condition of the church. He said he expected his clients to have demolished the building within a week had the stay been denied by the board. “History is important,” he said, ” but ultimately the risk is what’s paramount.”

Update (17:43, 22 Feb 2013)

The Review Board did not hear arguments on the case today, but did deliberate for about a half hour before presenting its decision. The Board had not taken action on the appeal since January 8, when it requested the opinion of the Historical Commission on the facts raised in the case.

“The Historical Commission found that the present owner, John Wei, stands in the same shoes as Siloam,” stated board member Gary Lee — referring to the nonprofit that owned the church when the original hardship ruling was handed down by the Historical Commission, and to the Commission’s opinion that the permit was valid.

In considering that opinion, though, the Board also appeared to agree with the appellant attorney, Samuel Stretton, that the Commonwealth Court appeal should be heard before any demolition activity is permitted. Therefore, the permit issued to Wei last December would only become active on a final ruling from the Board if Commonwealth Court denies the appeal.

Primavera earlier filed his own appeal of the Board’s decision to consult the Historical Commission — known as an interlocutory appeal, because it was filed before the case was resolved — to Common Pleas Court. However, both he and Stretton agreed that the interlocutory appeal was no longer in effect. Primavera will still appeal the Review Board’s decision to Common Pleas, including a request for bond payment from the Callowhill Neighborhood Association.

This story has been updated to accurately refer to the Review Board’s move as a decision, rather than a ruling, as the Board still retains jurisdiction over the stay of demolition for the church.

Church of the Assumption interior | Photo: Matthew Christopher

Church of the Assumption interior | Photo: Matthew Christopher

About the author

Christopher Mote covers stories of preservation, planning, zoning and development. He lives in South Philadelphia and has a special fondness for brownstone churches and mansard roofs.

Send him a message at: motecw[at]hotmail[dot]com



4 Comments


  1. Wow! This story never ceases to end. Apparently members of the L&I Review board are fans of historic preservation!

  2. Glad to see it’s safe for at least a little while longer. What a sad situation, though – other parts of the world are able to keep up buildings that have stood for a thousand years or more, while we cannot preserve a church that’s less than 200 years old.

  3. I’m surprised that L&I did this. I was expecting them to say tear it down. I still think this is delaying the inevitable but we shall see.

  4. Primavera is a good attorney and part of that is creating twists and turns where there are none. At the time Mr. Wei’s company purchased the property the Historical Commission’s approval of demolition had been overturned. Wei had months to address maintanence issues, especially those that might be impact public safety.

    The Callowhill neighbors have no need to issue a bond. Wei bought the entire property, which includes far more than just the church, and with it all of the potential risks and rewards.

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