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Council sets new rules for preserving churches

PITTSBURGH — Unlike other buildings, religious structures can only be nominated for historic status by their owners under a new policy one councilman derided as the "immaculate exception."

In a 6-2 vote Feb. 26, the City Council approved an amendment to Pittsburgh's historic preservation code, which allows anyone who has lived in the city for more than a year to nominate a building as historic and therefore eligible for protection.

When it comes to religious buildings, the change now mandates that historic nominations can only come from the owners of a "church, cathedral, mosque, temple, rectory, convent or similar structure used as a place of religious worship."

Religious leaders complained that the designation can create financial burdens for congregations already facing tight budgets and, therefore, nominations should be in their control.

Critics say the new rule makes it too easy for religious groups to tear down or sell churches against the will of their congregations.

The historic commission and preservationists also opposed the change, saying it creates a two-tiered system for property owners in the city.