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Pittsburgh will not appeal to state supreme court to save Albright church

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 5:06 p.m.
Albright United Methodist Church, seen here in Shadyside, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, may be slated for demolition to make way for shopping. Built in 1906, the church is mostly in the Gothic Reviva style.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Albright United Methodist Church, seen here in Shadyside, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, may be slated for demolition to make way for shopping. Built in 1906, the church is mostly in the Gothic Reviva style.

Pittsburgh will not appeal a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling that essentially stripped a vacant church at the edge of Bloomfield and Shadyside of its historical status and protection from demolition and redevelopment.

Dan Gilman, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto said the city had little ground for an appeal that could possibly save Albright United Methodist Church and would allow Wednesday’s deadline to launch one before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to pass.

“After careful review of the Commonwealth Court decision and consultation with our legal counsel, it’s become abundantly clear that the success of an appeal was very minimal,” Gilman said. “It would not have been a responsible action to take.”

Commonwealth Court in June upheld an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas ruling that found Pittsburgh City Council failed to vote on the historic designation.

Council members thought it had been approved under a section of the city code allowing a historic designation to take effect if members take no action for 120 days. Commonwealth Court cited another section of the city code that said approving the historic designation over a property owner’s objection required a “yes” vote by two-thirds of the nine council members.

The building’s owner, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, objected to the historic status designation, which preservationists and the building’s former congregation supported.

The congregation left the 112-year-old building in 2013 because of water damage, and the conference assumed ownership when the congregation could no longer afford its upkeep. The conference reached an agreement with a developer with plans to demolish the building and replace it with a one-story retail building.

Preservationists argued that the building was among the few surviving examples of architect Chancey Hodgdon’s work and that the church has notable stained-glass windows manufactured on what is now Pittsburgh’s North Side, along with an unusual layout that swaps a wide center aisle for two aisles up either side of pews.

Gillman said Peduto has a record of supporting the preservation of Pittsburgh’s historic structures, but in this case it was a lost cause.

“The mayor is deeply concerned about the demolition of historical structures that are a critical part of the unique fabric of our 90 neighborhoods,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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