Nativity BVM case presented to state Supreme Court

Sole ap­pel­lant cited park­ing is­sues as the main reas­on for halt­ing a pro­ject to turn a va­cant school in­to homes for seni­or cit­izens.

  • Gloria Marshall, the project’s sole appellant, has concern with the lack of parking that may result from the new housing units. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

  • The former Nativity BVM School at 3255 Belgrade St. in Port Richmond is the proposed site for a project that will bring 63 senior housing units to the neighborhood. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

Or­al ar­gu­ments were presen­ted to the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court last week in Glor­ia Mar­shall v. Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia and Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment, the case con­cern­ing a pro­pos­al to con­vert a shuttered Port Rich­mond school in­to a home for seni­ors.

Mar­shall sued the arch­diocese and zon­ing board in 2011 to pre­vent the arch­diocese from con­vert­ing the former Nativ­ity BVM School at 3255 Bel­grade St., which closed and has been va­cant since 2008, in­to 63 af­ford­able one-bed­room units for seni­or cit­izens.

The arch­diocese had been gran­ted $11 mil­lion in fed­er­al funds for the pro­ject, but four years later, the pro­ject is still in limbo.

The case was heard in the Court of Com­mon Pleas and the Com­mon­weath Court be­fore the state Su­preme Court hear­ing on Tues­day, March 11, at City Hall. Karl My­ers, coun­sel for the arch­diocese, and Jon Mar­shall, rep­res­ent­ing the sole ap­pel­lant, Glor­ia Mar­shall, presen­ted their ar­gu­ments to the justices.

About 30 Port Rich­mond res­id­ents at­ten­ded the hear­ing.

The fo­cal point of Mar­shall’s com­plaint is a lack of park­ing in the sur­round­ing area, where Glor­ia Mar­shall, his cli­ent and moth­er, lives.

“The neigh­bor­hood is con­ges­ted every night of the week,” Jon Mar­shall said at the hear­ing.

My­ers said the school park­ing signs would be re­moved from the premises, mak­ing way for ap­prox­im­ately 15 to 20 more park­ing spaces. The pro­pos­al also in­cludes adding four on-site park­ing spaces.

Dur­ing My­ers’ ar­gu­ments, Justice Max Baer said: “I’m root­ing for you. But we need to make sure you meet the leg­al re­quire­ments for this pro­ject to move for­ward.”

Mar­shall also ar­gued that there are oth­er more vi­able uses for the aban­doned build­ing, such as a sewage plant or an art gal­lery.

“No one asked for an art gal­lery,” said Theresa Cos­tello, co-founder of Port Rich­mond Com­munity Group, who at­ten­ded the hear­ing.

“Over­all, his ar­gu­ments came off a little crazy.”

It was Cos­tello’s first time at a state Su­preme Court hear­ing.

“It was in­ter­est­ing,” she said. “Every­one in our neigh­bor­hood has park­ing prob­lems. It’s just the way it is. In South Philly, they have to park side­ways to get a spot.”

Mar­shall did not re­turn a call re­quest­ing ad­di­tion­al com­ment.

Sev­er­al polit­ic­al fig­ures also were at the hear­ing.

Marc Collazzo at­ten­ded on be­half of State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th Dist.).  

“We’re cau­tiously op­tim­ist­ic,” Collazzo said.

Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on (D-6th Dist.) was also there.

“There are a lot of seni­ors that could be­ne­fit from a build­ing that’s been va­cated and blighted for a long time,” Hen­on said. “It just wel­comes crime.”

“It’s a shame that a single neigh­bor who’s op­posed has to hold up a good pro­ject for the neigh­bor­hood,” he said. “It was great to see com­munity lead­ers and neigh­bors there for sup­port, though.”

It will likely be months be­fore the court comes to a de­cision — Collazzo es­tim­ated 60 to 90 days.

Arch­diocese Dir­ect­or of the Of­fice of Com­munity De­vel­op­ment John Wag­n­er said he hoped the court would de­cide in fa­vor of zon­ing re­lief.

“Such a de­cision would en­rich this com­munity and provide an op­por­tun­ity for the seni­ors to live with dig­nity in their neigh­bor­hood,” he said in an emailed state­ment to Star. ••

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