LACONIA — The Diocese of Manchester applied for a permit on Tuesday to demolish its historic St. Joseph Church despite requests by parishioners and residents to save the building.
The city has been rushing to set up a historic district that would allow it to deny a request to raze the circa-1929 church.
Now that the diocese has officially sought a permit, the request will be handled under existing rules, which allow the city to temporarily delay, but not deny a demolition request, according to City Manager Scott Myers.
“By a demolition permit coming in today, this will not be subject to these proposed changes (in demolition rules),” Myers said at a council committee meeting Tuesday.
City Councilor David Bownes said the diocese has been secretive and hasn’t responded to city questions about the future use of the property.
“I am not completely surprised, but I am angry at the diocese,” he said.
Tara Shore, a member of the group trying to save the church, had tears in her eyes and her voice was breaking as she addressed the committee.
She asked the committee to move forward with plans for a historic district that could save several historic buildings downtown.
“Any moment someone could put forward a demolition permit on any of these buildings,” she said.
In a decision made public May 5, Bishop Peter Libasci determined that the church would be torn down this summer to make way for a sale of the campus, which also includes a school building and the Busiel House.
People have complained to the City Council and the diocese that the church is an integral piece of the city’s cultural, historic and architectural fabric and should be saved.
They called for the creation of a historic district, under which the city could deny a demolition request.
The proposed district would take in the church campus, the railroad station and the library.
Bownes said it makes sense to move forward with the district, but time is no longer critical because the church would not fall under these rules.
Existing rules call for demolition permits to be considered by the Heritage Commission, which could delay the demolition, perhaps by a couple months, city officials said.