No New Light On Windows' Fate

Panel Wants More Data On Dispute Over Church

July 15, 2009|By Olivia Bobrowsky | Olivia Bobrowsky,olivia.bobrowsky@baltsun.com

The stained glass windows of St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point are hard to see. The floral designs are shrouded by discolored plexiglass, but they are the clear focus of a dispute between developers who want to replace them with plain glass and the Polish congregants who don't want them touched.

Developers who want to convert the church into a commercial or residential property say that without natural light, the building is useless. Members of the Polish community, though, say that the windows of their former church are an important legacy of their faith and history.

The developers, Josh Neiman of Hybrid Development Group and Larry Silverstein of Union Box Co., took their case before Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation on Tuesday. But the commission declined to make a recommendation, asking the developers for more information on the windows' precise age and religious significance.

Because the church is a historic landmark, the developers need CHAP approval for any changes.

The church is owned by the Franciscan Friars, who closed it in 2000 and have come under fire from former members who want the building preserved, preferably as a museum. Michael Sarnecki, the president of the Polish Community Center of Baltimore's ad hoc committee, said the proposed renovations give the entire Polish community "very serious concerns."

A handful of other former congregants attended the hearing, all clapping vigorously after preservation commissioner Michael Murphy spoke in their favor.

"Do these windows contribute to the historic character of the property?" Murphy asked. "They came from Poland with this group and they built this church in Baltimore. This church is an expression of a certain people at a certain point in time."

The friars hope to sell the church to the developers, who envision turning the building into a commercial or residential property. They did not offer more specific plans for how the church would be used.

Neiman argued that without removing the stained glass completely, the building would not be economically viable. And he said he can't move forward with the rest of the project until he knows for sure if he'll be able to do so.

Still, he said, he understands where the Polish congregants are coming from.

"There's too much emotion in those windows," he said. "There's value in these windows to these people that are here today - more than monetary value."

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