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Historic site: Who decides? – O’Connor ‘optimistic’ about his proposal

By Tom Barnes,
Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

City Councilman Bob O’Connor isn’t letting a little setback with the Historic Review Commission get him down.

Last week, the commission unanimously recommended against a significant change that O’Connor wants to make in the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

O’Connor said the historic review panel’s stance “really doesn’t mean anything” because the final decision is still up to City Council. He said he thinks he has the support he needs to make the preservation ordinance less of a burden on those responsible for churches, synagogues and other religious buildings.

O’Connor said the historic commission’s vote is “just a recommendation to council. It’s nonbinding. I don’t think we expected anything different from them.”

O’Connor will try again today when the proposal comes before the city planning commission, which also will make a recommendation to council on the measure.

Under O’Connor’s revision, only the owner of an actively used religious building would be permitted to nominate it for historic status. Currently, many city officials, preservation groups and anyone who’s lived in the city for at least a year can make such a nomination, which could end up limiting what a church group can do with the exterior or the demolition of a building.

The Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, which owns St. Nicholas Church on the North Side, was upset when that 100-year-old building was nominated for historic status, which was then approved by City Council. As a result, it’s much harder for the building to be sold to state transportation officials, who plan to raze it in order to widen heavily congested Route 28.

Leaders from across the religious spectrum, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Luth-erans, Orthodox officials and Jewish rabbis, are in favor of O’Connor’s bill.

Historic preservationists oppose it, saying it would weaken city efforts to preserve culturally and architecturally important church buildings.

In cases where the historic panel opposes nomination of a building, it takes a council super-majority of at least six votes to override the panel’s recommendation. But in this case, O’Connor said he just needs the normal five-vote majority of the nine-member council.

After the planning commission takes a stance on O’Connor’s measure, council will hold a public hearing on it and probably vote next month, O’Connor said.

“I’m optimistic it will be approved,” he said. “We feel strongly about this. I want to go ahead with my plan.”

Tom Barnes can be reached at or 412-263-1548.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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