Mayor asks review of decision on St. Nicholas

Action opens door to church razing

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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wants to review a city Law Department decision that paves the way for demolition of the former St. Nicholas Church in Troy Hill, but the potential impact of that review is unclear because city lawyers last week filed paperwork settling the case.

On Friday, the Law Department confirmed that it had withdrawn its appeal of a Common Pleas Court decision that gave the parish authorization to demolish the historic building along Route 28.

Solicitor Daniel Regan said the appeal was withdrawn because of concern that a case filed by the parish exposed the city to financial risk. In that case, called a "takings case," the parish had argued that the city's refusal to grant a certificate of economic hardship -- a document permitting demolition -- amounted to a taking of the property.

When the city dropped its appeal of Judge Robert Colville's order granting the certificate, the parish dropped the takings case.

The church has been vacant since 2004, when the parish combined two congregations in Millvale.

City council President Darlene Harris, who represents Troy Hill and opposes demolition of the building, said she met with Mr. Ravenstahl for more than an hour Monday to seek his help in saving the structure.

"It seems like the mayor wants to work with me on this," she said after the meeting.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven confirmed that Mr. Ravenstahl will review the Law Department's decision but at the same time did not want to give demolition opponents false hope.

"The mayor is as concerned with this issue as the community is, but one key factor is whether or not the community and city can work with the diocese on this issue while also protecting taxpayers from multi-million dollar legal exposure," Ms. Doven wrote in an email.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, said the city had not approached church officials about a possible change of heart. As it stands now, he said, the diocese has no interest in further discussing the building's fate.

Mark Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference, a community group that would like to convert the old church into an immigration museum, said he didn't know what legal means city officials have left.

"They filed the paperwork and ended the case," Mr. Fatla said. "I don't see how they can un-ring the bell."

Because church officials had "won" the case, he added, they have little reason to prolong discussions.

On Monday, Mr. Regan said he wasn't prepared to address the city's legal options, and Mrs. Harris said she didn't know what legal footing the city might have.

"The building is not down yet ... Hopefully, something can happen. I'm not sure what," she said.

Also unclear is how soon the city must issue the certificate of hardship so that the parish can demolish the building. Mr. Regan said the Law Department has not been asked to review the matter.

neigh_city

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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