Debate continues over possible demolition of old church

Updated: 07/21/2014 11:12 PM
Created: 07/21/2014 10:56 PM WHEC.com

There is still no decision on the fate of a former church on the city’s southwest side. The owner says he wants to tear it down to make space for a much needed grocery store, but some residents say the church is historically significant.

The zoning board, like the neighborhood, is divided on this issue. So the board postponed the vote Monday, but the debate continues in the neighborhood.

Bertha Smith Isreal said, “I can get in my wheelchair and go two houses away. So it means a lot to me."

Bertha Smith Isreal has lived in her Winchester Street home since 1968. She is considering moving to the suburbs, but loves city living. The only problem is there is no grocery store nearby. That is why she is so excited about a proposal to put one at 660 West Main Street.

But that proposal needs a zoning variance from the city’s zoning board of appeals.

Joseph O’Donnell, Zoning Board of Appeals Chairperson, said, “"It's a struggle because you have competing demands. I totally understand Mr. May’s motivation and his business plan, but I also see the passion of the neighborhood. The Susan B. Anthony neighborhood is very passionate about saving that building."

Marvin May has proposed raising the one church and putting an 18,000 square foot, full service grocery store. The problem is it is three times what city zoning would allow. 

While Smith Isreal says many people who live in the neighborhood don’t have cars and don’t have access to fresh food, there are people, like Stacie Colaprete, who don’t want to lose the history here. Colaprete has lived next door to the old church for nine years.

Stacie Colaprete said, “I don’t think you can turn a 144-year-old church into a box store and have it be meaningful.”

Victoria Lang, Smith Isreal’s daughter, said, “For ten years, no one was interested in this place. No one wanted to do anything. Now all of a sudden somebody wants to do something and you say, ‘well it has historical value.’ I can't eat that history; my neighbors can't eat that history. We need fresh produce here.”

Some people are concerned that if a grocery store doesn't make it, it would leave a big empty box here. They also say if the developer walks away that a vacant building left here is a recipe for crime, fires and other problems.

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