Diocese, Mayor at odds on historic designation of two churches
Date: 1/11/2010Jan. 11, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Domenic Sarno has signed the ordinance approving the creation of a historic district that would preserve Our Lady of Hope Church and the Diocese of Springfield is withholding its decision to pursue legal action until the new City Council takes action on a similar request.
The City Council will consider creating a historic district that would preserve Immaculate Conception Church in Indian Orchard and Mark Dupont, spokesperson for the diocese, told Reminder Publications the diocese will consider its legal options once that request is determined.
Dupont said church officials and their legal counsel believe that while the diocese has "a compelling legal argument," the creation of these historic districts overstep the legal boundaries of government. It could also inhibit redevelopment instead of aid it.
He is hoping the new City Council will consult with the city's Law Department before making a decision.
Sarno said that he approved the historic district for Our Lady of Hope because of the three public schools adjacent to the church.
"I'm protecting the taxpayers' investments," he said.
Acknowledging the upcoming request from parishioners at Immaculate Conception, Sarno said his decision on other historic districts would be on a "case by case basis."
The mayor said he understands the "emotional level" of the issue.
"Our Lady of Hope Church is an iconic symbol of the Irish-American heritage of Hungry Hill," he said.
His decision was "purely" one of protecting city assets, he said.
Dupont emphasized the diocese "wants to work with people" in the redevelopment of closed church properties and has a record of selling properties beneath market rates to move projects forward.
"It's unfortunate the city has taken an adversarial relationship with us," he added.
"Their goals are not that different from our goals," Dupont said.