State Supreme Court to hear Nativity BVM case

Court will hear or­al ar­gu­ments in the case deal­ing with a pro­posed seni­or liv­ing fa­cil­ity in Port Rich­mond on March 11.

The Su­preme Court of Pennsylvania will hear or­al ar­gu­ments in Glor­ia Mar­shall v. City of Phil­adelphia and Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment, the case deal­ing with a pro­posed seni­or liv­ing fa­cil­ity in Port Rich­mond, on Tues­day, March 11, at City Hall.

The Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia made plans in 2009 to con­vert the former Nativ­ity BVM School in­to res­id­ences for seni­ors. The school had closed in 2008 and has been va­cant ever since.

As Star pre­vi­ously re­por­ted, the seni­or liv­ing pro­pos­al won $11 mil­lion for the pro­ject from the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment (HUD) and re­sound­ing sup­port from the com­munity. (A pe­ti­tion en­titled “Port Rich­mond for Trans­form­ing Nativ­ity School in­to Seni­or Liv­ing” had tal­lied 1,209 sig­na­tures by Tues­day af­ter­noon.)

The case has been tied up in court since Feb­ru­ary 2011, when Mar­shall, who lives a block away from the build­ing, ac­cord­ing to the civil dock­et re­port, sued to ap­peal the zon­ing board’s de­cision to grant the vari­ances that would al­low the seni­or liv­ing pro­ject to move for­ward.

The Phil­adelphia Court of Com­mon Pleas af­firmed the zon­ing board’s de­cision, but the Com­mon­wealth Court of Pennsylvania later over­turned that de­cision, rul­ing in fa­vor of Mar­shall.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­mon­wealth court’s ma­jor­ity opin­ion, Mar­shall’s at­tor­ney and son, Jon Alan Mar­shall, Jr., test­i­fied that park­ing is a prob­lem in the area and that there are no oth­er multi-fam­ily homes in the neigh­bor­hood. “He also ex­pressed con­cerns about trash re­mov­al from the pro­posed apart­ments and pieces of ce­ment fall­ing from the build­ing onto the street,” ac­cord­ing to the opin­ion, and “test­i­fied that the Arch­diocese could have simply raised tu­ition in­stead of clos­ing the ele­ment­ary school.”

The court found that the arch­diocese did not prove that the prop­erty couldn’t “be used for any oth­er per­mit­ted pur­pose, that it could only be used for such pur­poses at a pro­hib­it­ive ex­pense, or that it has no value for any pur­pose per­mit­ted by the Zon­ing Code.”

Now the case has reached the state su­preme court.

Mean­while, the build­ing is fall­ing in­to dis­repair, with all the usu­al prob­lems that come along with va­cancy. There have been at least sev­en break-ins since 2009, and in re­cent snowstorms, neigh­bors have com­plained about a lack of shov­el­ing and a risk of fall­ing icicles.

Sup­port­ers are try­ing to or­gan­ize a group to at­tend the or­al ar­gu­ments to­geth­er. “Power in num­bers!” Wendy McLaugh­lin Hauben­stein pos­ted on the “Nativ­ity BVM Seni­or Hous­ing Hear­ing” Face­book event page. “We need to put this to rest and stop al­low­ing one per­son to dic­tate the fu­ture liv­ing of our seni­ors.”


State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) is plan­ning to at­tend the hear­ing to sup­port the com­munity, Dis­trict Of­fice Man­ager Marc Collazzo said, and dir­ec­ted those in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing to meet at room 456, on the fourth floor of City Hall, around 8:45 a.m. But Collazzo cau­tioned that space in the courtroom would be lim­ited.


At­tor­ney Jon Alan Mar­shall, Jr., whose ad­dress is lis­ted in Fox Chase, did not re­turn a call re­quest­ing com­ment.

John Wag­n­er, the arch­diocese’s dir­ect­or of the of­fice for com­munity de­vel­op­ment, said in an email: “This mat­ter is in the hands of the Court.”

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