LIBR: Stay on demolition of Church of the Assumption to continue

The Board of L&I Review has continued its stay of the demolition permit to demolish the historic Church of the Assumption. The BLIR issued the stay of demolition when neighbors filed an appeal of the permit late last year. So, as of Friday afternoon, legal roadblocks remain in place between the wrecking ball and the church.

“We’re definitely satisfied with the results of today’s hearing,” said Andrew Palewski, the author of the nomination that in 2009 earned local historic designation for the distinctive, 19th-century building near 11th and Spring Garden Streets. “The Board’s solution puts the issue in the hands the Commonwealth Court which is exactly where it should be right now, given that an appeal has been pending since early November. But equally as important is the continuation of the Board’s stay, which will allow the building to remain standing in the meantime.”

The Callowhill Neighborhood Association had appealed the issuing of a permit for demolition last fall to the Board. The Board then asked the Historical Commission to weigh in, and the Commission affirmed its earlier decision: that the building was an economic hardship and that the permit was issued correctly. Board member Gary Lee issued a short statement regarding LIBR’s position on the Historical Commission’s stance:

“The Philadelphia Historical Commission has in effect stated that Mr. Wei, the new owner, stands in the shoes of Siloam. The Licenses and Inspections Review Board continues its stay of the demolition permit. The Licenses and Inspections Review Board is aware that the Siloam case is in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, and urges all parties to take action to obtain a speedy decision from that court on the appeal in light of the fact that Mr. Wei is in the same shoes as Siloam.”

John Wei, the developer who bought the Church over the summer, first pulled demolition permits last fall, and barring any further injunction, seems ready to demolish the building. Earlier on Friday, Wei’s attorney Carl Primavera told PlanPhilly that, without an injunction, Wei would likely demolish “without any delay.”

“It doesn’t happen in 24 hours,” Primavera said, “but the last time I spoke to [Wei], he was pretty much ready to go.”

Prior to the LIBR decisison, Sam Stretton, attorney for Callowhill Neighborhood Association, which has been fighting for preservation of the historic church, said he would file an appeal with the Court of Common Pleas and seek an injunction pending the court’s review.

Primavera said that if Stretton appealed and requested a stay of demolition, he would ask that the court require the Callowhill Neighborhood Association to post a $10,000 bond to pay for any damage that might occur to the building while its demolition is delayed in court. Primavera said that, while he sympathizes with the impulse to preserve the building, further legal delay would be dangerous as the Church’s condition continues to deteriorate.

“[The Church] is interesting in terms of what happened a hundred years ago, but we’re living today,” Primavera said.

The Church of the Assumption has architectural and cultural significance both locally and nationally. It was designed and built by the most prolific ecclesiastical architect of 19th century America. Over 600 churches were built by Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896) in North America, and Assumption Church is the oldest surviving Keely structure in existence. The church was erected in 1848-49 and had extensive renovations in 1899.

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