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Preservation dispute being fought on several fronts

A common aphorism in the real estate industry is that the most important factor is location, location, location. A real estate dispute in Roxborough may now add another: in historic preservation litigation, the most important factor may be timing, timing, timing.

A group of neighbors are trying to prevent the demolition of 1880s twin houses that are described as extraordinary examples of "Eastlake Victorian" architecture. The group leading the preservation effort, the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association ("WICA"), has filed a request with the Philadelphia Historical Commission ("PHC") to place the structure on the city's Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately for the group, their efforts face an unusual uphill battle: a demolition permit posted on the front door of the house states that it may be razed any time after May 9, and the preservation request will not be considered by the PHC until July 10. Even if the PHC were to approve the preservation request, it may not save the house because the demolition permit was issued before the owner of the property was notified of the request for historic preservation. The owner of the house does not support the preservation effort.

The WICA has now started a lawsuit to rescind the demolition permit. Attorney for the property owner has promised to notify the WICA before demolition begins. For their part, the preservationists say they merely want to bring the owner "back to the table" to discuss a possible compromise.

The WICA appears to have been a bit late in starting its preservation efforts. On the other hand, the house is still standing and may ultimately escape the wrecking ball. In any event, the legal issues are many and complex. Whether a person wishes to demolish a historic building, or whether a neighborhood group wants to preserve the structure, a consultation with an attorney who specialize in real estate and zoning litigation may provide a helpful evaluation of the facts of the case and an estimate of the probability of succeeding.

Source: Newsworks.org, "Multi-pronged battle ahead for group of neighbors trying to save historic Wissahickon house," Alan Jaffe, June 2, 2015

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