Two communities fighting to stop demolition of churches

CNN Newsource Pristine Villarreal

BURLINGTON, Vermont (WPTZ) — Burlington and Winooski residents are taking action to try and save churches set for demolition.

Last month, Burlington’s Development Review Board gave the OK on a permit to demolish the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception downtown. Now, a lawsuit is trying to stop that.

Preservation Burlington, a nonprofit that’s mission is to protect historic architecture, filed the lawsuit. They believe there is use for the structure, that it has historic value, and that it should be obligated to undergo the same zoning process that everyone else must.

“There’s a good use for it besides being a church,” said Ron Wannamaker, president of Preservation Burlington. “Our statute is giving preferential treatment to a church over secular uses or secular people.”

Next door in Winooski, a public hearing was held on Thursday night over the possible demolition of St. Stephen’s Church on Barlow Street.

The zoning administrator approved a zoning permit in December for demolition. An appeal to that permit was filed in January, which contained signatures from about 80 neighbors.

The church argued that with the sale of the building without demolishing it, it could end up in the wrong hands.

“We said the best thing to do is bury her,” the Rev. Richard Lavalley of St. Francis Xavier Parish, who is in control of the building, said. “I don’t think it is going to be a beautiful thing to see that building, which has happened in the past — it could become a bar, it could become anything.”

Some residents echoed that sentiment.

“This is a holy site, and it should be incumbent on us, we the people forming this government, to respect their wishes,” a member of the public said.

Residents against demolition said there is too much historic and community value to see it go.

“Whether the church is on the list of historic register, I don’t know if that is a key point here, but what I know is that church is historic,” one resident said.

Some suggested ways to use the building that would be more in line with the structure’s original purpose of helping area residents.

“If we could do something for kids or adults in the community it seems like that would be in alignment with the church’s purpose, ultimately,” another resident added.

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