PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Neighbors are feuding over the fate of a shuttered church in Fishtown.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed St. Laurentius Church in 2014 because of structural issues and it has remained vacant since.
Nearly 300 people filled the basement of Holy Name Church to discuss the future of St. Laurentius just a few blocks away.
Developer Leo Voloshin is proposing preserving the exterior of the church and building 23 one-bedroom apartments inside. He said the archdiocese approached him about the project.
“My goal here is really to just save the church, save the building, preserve it for the community,” he said.
Voloshin is seeking the city’s approval to rezone the church from single-family to multi-family residential. But the opposition at the meeting was vocal, with neighbors citing lack of parking, strain on the sewer system and loss of community space.
“It’s a beacon of the community,” said Venice Whitaker, member of The Faithful Laurentians. The group seeks to keep the site as a sacred space. “It expresses the identity of Fishtown, the identity of the people that have fought and worked here.”
“I just don’t see how it could be better to have apartments here,” said Carolyn Divine, another member of The Faitfhful Laurentians. “We need somewhere to worship and keep the community together.”
Longtime Fishtown resident AJ Thompson said Voloshin’s plan is the only viable option to save the 135-year-old building.
“The truth is that the archdiocese has failed this parish and this church and they’ve tried to let it kind of decay to the point where they can demolish it,” Thompson said. “It’s an unbelievably sinful act and we’re hoping that people here realize that this is a way to save this church, the beauty of the architecture, the people that have sacrificed for the building for posterity.”
The community voted against rezoning the property to allow apartments 165 to 107. But the city’s zoning board ultimately has the final say.
The project will go before the ZBA on November 1st. The board will take community vote into consideration and has historically has voted in line with the community.