Clash Over Religious Sites' Historic Status

December 4, 2008

Author: Diana Nelson Jones

Source: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The city's Historic Review Commission yesterday heard more wrangling over legal wording that would exempt any building used for religious worship or education from historic status.

Historic status protects buildings from demolition unless they become hazardous.

The city's law now gives the owner of a religious property the right to nominate it for historic status, but the definition of religious property has been left to interpretation.

When Lawrenceville preservationists nominated the 155-year-old St. Mary's Academy in October, the owner, the Catholic Cemeteries Association, claimed it was a religious structure and challenged their right to nominate it.

Built to be both a church and a school, it was a school much longer and vacant even longer. The historic review commission voted in favor of the nomination in October; City Council will hear the case Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

District 9 Councilman Ricky Burgess, a minister, submitted a draft of a bill to exempt any building a religious organization owns and uses from nomination under the "substantial hardship" defense.

Several religious groups have wanted to demolish buildings, citing economic hardship, and have been stymied by nominations.

Mr. Burgess said he wants his bill to mirror a federal law that prohibits land-use discrimination against religious organizations.

See also: Interfaith, Zoning