State Supreme Court to hear Nativity BVM case

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.”