Historic Preservation Public Policy

Legal Standing and Preservation in Pennsylvania

by Michael R. Allen

Today’s Preservation Online includes an article that illustrates the importance of legal standing to historic preservation advocacy:

A last-ditch effort to save America’s first Lithuanian Catholic church, located in Shenandoah, Pa., failed this week. Schuylkill County Judge Cyrus Palmer Dolbin ruled Dec. 1 that parishioners of St. George Catholic Church have “no standing,” or no legal right, to file a lawsuit to halt the current demolition of the historic 1891 sanctuary.

There are familiar elements in the story: an unbending Catholic diocese, an inflated estimate of repair costs and wide support inside and outside of the Church for preservation. The plaintiffs are contemplating appeal, but demolition now has a green light to proceed no matter what the outcome of the appeal.

Of course, unlike the local effort of the Friends of the San Luis, the Shenandoah effort hinges on the basis that parishioners have standing to sue their own Diocese. What is clear is that having legally-defensible standing to bring forth lawsuits to halt demolition is crucial to preservation efforts. When the eleventh hour comes — and it often does — the courts provide recourse.