Nativity BVM case presented to state Supreme Court

Gloria Marshall, the project’s sole appellant, has concern with the lack of parking that may result from the new housing units. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

Oral arguments were presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week in Gloria Marshall v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Zoning Board of Adjustment, the case concerning a proposal to convert a shuttered Port Richmond school into a home for seniors.

Marshall sued the archdiocese and zoning board in 2011 to prevent the archdiocese from converting the former Nativity BVM School at 3255 Belgrade St., which closed and has been vacant since 2008, into 63 affordable one-bedroom units for senior citizens.

The archdiocese had been granted $11 million in federal funds for the project, but four years later, the project is still in limbo.

The case was heard in the Court of Common Pleas and the Commonweath Court before the state Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, March 11, at City Hall. Karl Myers, counsel for the archdiocese, and Jon Marshall, representing the sole appellant, Gloria Marshall, presented their arguments to the justices.

About 30 Port Richmond residents attended the hearing.

The focal point of Marshall’s complaint is a lack of parking in the surrounding area, where Gloria Marshall, his client and mother, lives.

“The neighborhood is congested every night of the week,” Jon Marshall said at the hearing.

Myers said the school parking signs would be removed from the premises, making way for approximately 15 to 20 more parking spaces. The proposal also includes adding four on-site parking spaces.

During Myers’ arguments, Justice Max Baer said: “I’m rooting for you. But we need to make sure you meet the legal requirements for this project to move forward.”

Marshall also argued that there are other more viable uses for the abandoned building, such as a sewage plant or an art gallery.

“No one asked for an art gallery,” said Theresa Costello, co-founder of Port Richmond Community Group, who attended the hearing.

“Overall, his arguments came off a little crazy.”

It was Costello’s first time at a state Supreme Court hearing.

“It was interesting,” she said. “Everyone in our neighborhood has parking problems. It’s just the way it is. In South Philly, they have to park sideways to get a spot.”

Marshall did not return a call requesting additional comment.

Several political figures also were at the hearing.

Marc Collazzo attended on behalf of State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th Dist.).  

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Collazzo said.

Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th Dist.) was also there.

“There are a lot of seniors that could benefit from a building that’s been vacated and blighted for a long time,” Henon said. “It just welcomes crime.”

“It’s a shame that a single neighbor who’s opposed has to hold up a good project for the neighborhood,” he said. “It was great to see community leaders and neighbors there for support, though.”

It will likely be months before the court comes to a decision — Collazzo estimated 60 to 90 days.

Archdiocese Director of the Office of Community Development John Wagner said he hoped the court would decide in favor of zoning relief.

“Such a decision would enrich this community and provide an opportunity for the seniors to live with dignity in their neighborhood,” he said in an emailed statement to Star. ••

The former Nativity BVM School at 3255 Belgrade St. in Port Richmond is the proposed site for a project that will bring 63 senior housing units to the neighborhood. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO