Updated 7/6/12 at 1:30 p.m. Comments from Wally Smerconish have been added.
Developer Wally Smerconish, the contract buyer of First Baptist Church of Ardmore, applied for a demolition permit for the property this week, according to Bob Duncan, Lower Merion Building and Planning Director.
The Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board's decision to deny a use variance requested by Smerconish "effectively directed me to demolish this church," Smerconish told Patch on Friday.
First Baptist Church, located at E Athens Ave and St. Pauls Road, has been up for sale since last July since its small congregation cannot support it.
Smerconish, the president of Main Street Abstract Company, had previously presented to the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board plans to convert the 1928 greystone building and its parsonage into five condominium units. Those plans would have kept the building intact, aside from small changes like adding dormer windows to the church's roof, Smerconish told the Zoning Hearing Board on May 17.
Because the church's R4 zoning only permits single family detached dwellings on the site, Smerconish applied for a variance to permit multi-family use, which was denied by the Zoning Hearing Board on June 14.
In order for a use variance to be granted, an applicant must prove "that because of the physical conditions, there is no possibility that the property can be developed in strict conformity with the Zoning ordinance and that a variance is needed to enable reasonable use of the property," the Municipalities Planning Code states in part.
On June 14, the Zoning Hearing Board denied the variances requested by Smerconish, reasoning that Smerconish "failed to meet the heavy burden of proving unnecessary hardship for a use variance."
"I was very confident that the Zoning Hearing Board would recognize the merits of this case and grant the use variance, and they did not," Smerconish told Patch on Friday. "I was shocked. I am now committed to the purchase of this building, and the Zoning Hearing Board and their decision effectively directed me to demolish this church."
Smerconish applied for a demolition permit this week, but he will also be appealing the Zoning Hearing Board's decision in court. Smerconish said that on Monday, he will be filing an appeal in court for the reconsideration of the board's decision.
Smerconish recognized that the community will not support demolition of the property, and said he wanted to avoid that outcome as well.
"We can settle this in accordance with what community wants, or not—and if we don't, then demolition is a very real possibility," Smerconish said, noting that he has already solicited bids from contractors for the property's demolition.
Smerconish will need to obtain permission for the demolition from the current owners of the property—the First Baptist Church congregation—since Smerconish is the contract buyer, not the owner of the property, Duncan said. He will also need to submit the necessary plans and paperwork for the permit to be processed.
Obtaining permission may be moot, as Smerconish said he will close the sale with First Baptist within the month, and there are no contingencies for that sale.
Demolition permits, Duncan said, are "just an adminstrative process. There's nothing to stop him from doing it."
"It’s a very regrettable outcome, it's not what the community wants and it's not what I want, but the Zoning Hearing Board effectively led me to demolish the building as a result of their decision," Smerconish said.
"[Smerconish] had a certain burden and he didn’t met the burden," Duncan told Patch. "[The Zoning Hearing Board members] have an obligation to uphold the code."
Representatives of First Baptist Church were not immediately available for comment.
- Condo Plans Denied for Ardmore's First Baptist Church (June 21, 2012)
- Developer Details Condo Plans for First Baptist Church (May 18, 2012)
- Karate Studio or Condos? First Baptist Church Plans Discussed (May 3, 2012)
- With Ardmore's First Baptist Closing, Other Places Of Worship Consider Their Fate (Jan. 5, 2012)
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