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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church Lses Two Voes

Yesterday, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment authority approved the project known as "Magnolia Square," that would demolish venerable St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church to build 36 new houses.

Today, the aldermanic Housing, Urban Design and Zoning (HUDZ) Committee unanimously voted -- without roll call -- to send Board Bill #361 (sponsored by Alderman Joe Vollmer, An ordinance establishing a Planned Unit for City Block 4054.11 to be known as "Magnolia Square Subdivision"), to the full Board of Aldermen. Alderman Vollmer and developer James Wohlert presented their plans briefly. Wohlert told the committee that DiMartino Homes primarily buys vacant lots for new construction or old houses for demolition and new construction; he did not mention any experience in historic rehabilitation. The presenters barely acknowledged that the project failed to receive preliminary approval from the city's Preservation Board.


Anonymous said...

Does the Board of Aldermen have to do anything about the Preservation's Board denial?

Will no one on the Board of Aldermen defend the Preservation Ordinance?

Michael Allen said...

The Preservation Board denial was considered a preliminary design review. There has to be another Preservation Board hearing, and without Preservation Board approval the developer will not be able to get a demolition permit.

Of course, the Board of Aldermen can do a lot of things to circumvent the Preservation Board process. And if the blighting bill passes before the next Preservation Board meeting, members of the Preservation Board could very well assume that the matter is closed and there is no point to denying the demolition permit.

If the Preservation Board does act to enforce the Preservation Ordinance, the owner will have to file a formal appeal. This process may take awhile, and he'll be losing money in the meantime. Perhaps he will be persuaded to change his plans if he loses another Preservation Board vote.

The neighborhood opposition is largely a public-relations creation. The alderman, develoepr and priest could have spun the story another way if Wohlert sought to convert the church into condos: They could have claimed that people there would have wanted preservation, and were gald to see the old buildings standing even if no longer their church. And people would not have then been clamoring for demolition! People tend to want to be on the winning side, so anything Wohlert wants to do will be largely supported anyway.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be on the winning side. I just don't want to see a vacant church in disrepair wait for the right development.

I toured the Abbey on Lafayette Park recently. It seems all the units on the second floor, those with church-high ceilings are still for-sale, at discounted prices.

Michael Allen said...

Personally, I think that the typical church-to-condo conversion is a bit short-sighted. I understand that a developer has to make a project pay for itself and dole out a good profit, but condominium use of church space creates awkward and often undesirable uses. I would like to see other uses explored for St. Al's, such as art studios, offices (the most realistic and architecturally sensitive reuse), community space, small performing-arts theater or such. While the neighborhood doesn't want anything that would attract a lot of cars, most of these uses would be lower-traffic than the church and school.

Wouldn't the church be a great space for an architecture firm?