A dispute over razing two historic West Chester rowhouses has intensified as a church's expansion proposal approaches a vote.
West Chester Borough Council briefly discussed the issue of whether the First Presbyterian Church of West Chester should be permitted to demolish two contiguous homes it owns in the 100 block of West Miner Street at a Tuesday night work session. More discussion and a vote are scheduled for Wednesday evening.
Bob Adams, an attorney for the church and a parishioner, said he believed he had made all the salient arguments previously.
"We merit approval on the basis of the ordinances," he said.
Councilman James A. Jones said the application had proved to be a "difficult" one, and he planned to introduce a motion Wednesday evening "to deny approval." He said he would elaborate on his reasons then.
The church has said it has outgrown its Greek Revival building at Darlington and Miner Streets and cannot continue its mission without enlarging its footprint from 44,000 to 62,000 square feet.
Neighbors in this crowded section of town contend the proposed building would be an out-of-scale eyesore that would aggravate parking problems. The block is often showcased in historic walking tours.
In August, the borough Planning Commission denied the church's request, citing mainly parking; in October, a law firm hired by the church hinted at a lawsuit exposing residents to "a multimillion-dollar liability" if the application were denied.
The following month, in a sermon to parishioners posted on the church website, the Rev. Greg Stovell struck a more conciliatory tone.
"A great and godly group is leading us not only in expansion but also in planning new ways to outreach, listening to the voices of the neighbors and everyone here," he said.
The same month, "Preservation Pennsylvania," a nonprofit, listed the rowhouses, which are located just outside of the borough's protected Historic Architectural Review Board district, on its annual "endangered" historic properties list.
That designation, like the homes' inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, would not prevent their demolition.
The controversy dates to 2006, shortly after the church bought the two rowhouses and promised to save them.
Those plans ran afoul of borough ordinances, particularly over parking, and a protracted battle ensued.
The church threatened to sue under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act if the borough did not change the ordinances, which it did, resulting in less-stringent parking requirements.
Adams has said it was regrettable the church promised to save the buildings during the last go-round. If the church had received the relief it sought in 2006, the buildings would have been preserved; now, doing so would be cost-prohibitive, he said.