A vacant North Buffalo church that was torched by an arsonist earlier this year is targeted for demolition, but the Preservation Board is trying to landmark the building to prevent it from coming down.
The building, at 375 Colvin Ave., is owned by the United Methodist Church, and the board of trustees is waiting for a demolition permit from the city, said Maidstone Mulenga, director of communications for the church’s Upper New York Annual Conference.
“We are working with the city to make sure the place is safe,” Mulenga said, adding that an April fire left the building in a “dangerous situation.”
James Comerford Jr., commissioner of permits and inspections, has not issued a demolition permit, and the church is going through the standard permit application process and is not seeking an emergency permit, said city spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.
DeGeorge did not elaborate on when a permit would be issued, or how soon the demolition could take place.
The Preservation Board, fearing demolition could be imminent, began the process of designating the site as a city landmark during its meeting on Thursday.
“What is the rush?” board member Tim Tielman said. “It has not been explained what the rush is [to demolish the structure].”
At the time of the April fire, Mayor Byron W. Brown told The Buffalo News that the church “would have a very steep climb” to get permission to tear down, rather than sell the building.
“It’s a beautiful building in a very stable neighborhood, and we are going to require the church go through every single step of the process of seeking permission to demolish the structure,” Brown said then.
In a letter to Brown on Friday, Tielman urged that demolition be halted at least until the Common Council can act on whether the building should be designated a city landmark.
In a letter to Comerford on Friday, Preservation Board Chairman Paul McDonnell made a case for why the building should be preserved, including its history as a home for several congregations, its architectural features and the role it has played in the neighborhood.
The board scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 10 on the landmark designation.
Since the building is not a landmark and is not in a preservation district, the board can recommend to Comerford whether it should be torn down or not, but cannot stop the demolition outright.
The building, which dominates the corner of Colvin and Tacoma avenues and backs up to Saranac Avenue, features a tall bell tower. The property is surrounded by chain link fencing and “no trespassing signs,” and an excavator and two large metal debris receptacles sit in the backyard.
Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto said the large building is a neighborhood institution and that if it’s torn down, a redevelopment on the site won’t improve upon what is there now.
“From my standpoint, if the church is salvageable, I’d rather have the church there,” LoCurto said.
The property was in Housing Court after the fire, and neighbors have been known to cut the grass on the property, LoCurto said.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “It’s been there a long time.”
The fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damage and is believed to have started when clothing was set on fire. There do not appear to be any immediate plans to reuse the site.
A Korean Methodist congregation moved out of the building in August 2006 after about 10 years there, and relocated to Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst. The building previously hosted Baptists, Jews and Scottish Rite Masons.
Plans to use the church as a fitness center came before the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2009, but those plans were never executed.