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Faith low for future of land

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Let's say for a moment that you owned a house — the biggest and arguably once the nicest one in your neighborhood. It's on a prime piece of real estate. Your neighbors think it's beautiful. It's been standing for more than 100 years.

You, on the other hand, have little interest or need for the house. It's too big and is in need of a lot of work. You own other properties, and no one lives in this one. You'd like to tear it down and sell the property. Your neighbors don't want you to do that. They'd like you to sell it to someone else who will fix it up and keep it.

You say no. It's your property, you remind them, and you should be able to do what you want. Those opposed to your wishes sue.

About eight years later, you win and are finally able to do what you want.

Thus, demolition is under way at St. Nicholas Church, the house of God along Route 28 that we've been talking about here. It remains to be seen what will happen to the property.

The Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, which owns the church, says it was up to the parish to decide what to do with the property. Because the demolition is ongoing and the land is not yet cleared, there are no plans to do anything with it right now, he said. It's not even up for sale yet.

What about the Northside Leadership Conference's proposal to buy the property and use the church to build a museum dedicated to Pittsburgh's immigrant history?

“We can't do that with an empty lot on the shoulder of the highway,” said Mark Fatla, the organization's director. The group's main purpose, after all, is preservation, and the conference's plan relied on a historic church to house the museum.

Fatla said that an offer by the Urban Redevelopment Authority to purchase the church for $300,000 was rejected: “(Church officials) would rather destroy it than let someone else have it.”

But Lengwin said it was the parish – the people of the remaining St. Nicholas Church in Millvale – that voted to turn down the URA's offer.

Who could use a property on the side of a major roadway that doesn't have a structure on it? Many drivers who have passed the empty church over the years hope that PennDOT will use the area to expand Route 28. Well, keep praying.

Jim Struzzi, PennDOT spokesman, said the agency still plans to rebuild Route 28 around the church property. When asked if the agency would reconsider its decision not to acquire the church property, he replied, “I can't say that.”

Sentimentally speaking, it's terrible to lose this house. It was built by Croatian immigrants and contained historic murals. But if it were your house and your neighbors tried to get you to keep something you didn't want, you'd probably say no.

Fatla pointed out, though, that ownership of a property doesn't mean that you don't have a responsibility to the public.

“There's no aspect of real estate ownership that isn't ruled by regulation,” he said. He's got a point there. You have to shovel your walk, for example, so others don't injure themselves.

But do you have to keep everything the way it is even if you don't want to? No.

Even if a vacant lot wasn't exactly what anyone had in mind.

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669 or

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