Neighbors of an iconic Spring Garden Street church got the building yet another a reprieve Tuesday as a city agency ruled in favor of a last-minute petition to prevent its demolition.
The decision by the city's Licenses and Inspections Review Board temporarily postpones the wrecking ball for Church of the Assumption, located near 12th and Spring Garden, by owner John Wei, who obtained a demolition permit from Licenses and Inspections last week. The board has scheduled a Jan. 8 hearing on the merits of the demolition permit. Members of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association say that permit should be invalidated because it was granted to a previous owner, but Wei and the city claim the permit should be upheld.
"We won the first battle, the war is still going on," attorney Sam Stretton, who represents the neighbors, said following the ruling. "Having been in a lot of legal wars it's the final one that counts, but at least we get to fight another day."
Wei said when he purchased the 164-year-old property in July his initial plan was to preserve the church, but the city has forced him to stabilize it -- estimated at a cost of more than $1 million by the neighborhood group -- or tear it down. The Historical Commission gave the previous owner, nonprofit organization Siloam, the green light to demolish the building because it determined that reuse of the building was not feasible.
Avoid falling church steeples
One question raised during yesterday’s review remains cloudy: If someone were injured by the building, which has code violations, before the January hearing, who would be liable?
Sam Stretton, the attorney representing the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, said the board’s ruling would exempt the owner, but attorney Andrew Ross from the city’s Law Department disagrees.
“I don’t believe that a decision by the judicial body shields anybody from liability,” Ross said after the ruling.