The Kansas State Historical Society and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance may get their chance to inspect a 120-year-old church building, despite a pending appeal of a court decision by the church's owner.
Todd Thompson, who represents Allen Realty Inc., owner of the Old English Lutheran Church, 1040 N.H., has presented a plan to the historical society, the LPA and the city that would allow the state and the LPA to inspect the church.
A 2-year-old legal battle involving the city, the LPA, the state historical society and Allen Realty has simmered over Allen Realty's proposed demolition of the church. Allen Realty wants to use the site of the church for expansion of the nearby Allen Press.
A RULING last month by Douglas County District Judge Ralph M. King requires that Allen Realty open the church to the historic preservation groups for inspection before the Lawrence City Commission holds a rehearing on an application for a permit allowing demolition of the church. Allen Realty has appealed King's decision to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Thompson said his proposal is aimed at resolving the matter in a more timely manner than an appeal would take. It was offered, he said, because of the "imminent danger" the church poses to the general public.
A week ago, Allen Realty was ordered by the city to realign a fence blocking access to the church and to place barricades in the street in front of the church as a public safety measure. The move was predicated by a report to the city from a public engineer who said the church posed an "immediate public safety hazard."
UNDER Thompson's proposal, Allen Realty would allow the state and LPA to inspect the church. Allen Realty then would request that the city commission schedule a rehearing on the demolition permit request. Before the hearing, the state, the LPA and Allen Realty would share all inspection reports and testimony that would be presented at the demolition permit hearing.
If the commission agrees that there is no "feasible or prudent alternative" to the demolition, Allen Realty would drop its appeal and tear down the church. However, Allen Realty does not want to sacrifice its right to its case to the appeals court if the commission finds that the demolition is not warranted.
"We would like to get this resolved quicker" than what an appeal would take, Thompson said this morning. "If we can make arrangements so that none of Allen Realty's rights are endangered, we will proceed with the state historic preservation officer's and his designee's inspection of the church."
THOMPSON said he's confident that once all of the inspections are completed, the evidence will show that saving the church is not feasible.
"We feel that once all the information is known and out on the table, the city commission will have no choice but to find that there is no feasible nor prudent alternative to demolition," he said.
Thompson said that the state and city have agreed to the plan, and he is still awaiting word from the LPA. Ron Schneider, attorney for the LPA, was not in his office this morning and could not be reached for comment.
In the meantime, Allen Realty has tentatively scheduled a "walk-through" of the church by city commissioners, state historical society officials and LPA representatives for 2 p.m. Monday. The tour also is dependent upon approval from the LPA.
"Nobody's going to be making a sales pitch on either side," Thompson said of the tour. "It's just an opportunity for the commissioners to be able to see the church for themselves."