Philadelphia and its suburbs contain many churches more than a century old, and many of these churches are no longer used by an active congregation. The structures themselves, however, are often seen as a valuable architectural resource that deserves preservation, not demolition. The nature of this conflict is once again on display in the suburban township of Narberth where plans for a commercial real estate development have stirred the interest of local preservationists.

The Baptist Church of the Evangel is 125 years old and Narberth’s oldest church, and it is vacant. Development plans for the site have evolved from adaptive reuse of the church to the current plan for demolishing the building and replacing it with new construction. Since all of these plans are permitted by the borough’s zoning code, the borough council is once again considering the adoption of a historic preservation ordinance to give it more control over the demolition of Narberth’s many historic buildings.

The impending fate of the Baptist Church caused the borough council to entertain a presentation by a community preservation coordinator for the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office, and the historic preservation director for Lower Merion Conservancy. The two preservationists explained how they could help the borough develop preservation-sensitive policies into its zoning code. The process would consist of a six-month review of the community’s history, population trends, building inventory and current zoning. The goal of such a review is the adoption of a zoning code that gives the borough council power to consider historic preservation issues when it considers re-zoning requests and other development-related issues.

If the borough is successful in adopting such an ordinance, every application for a rezoning, conditional use permit or demolition permit will be assessed according to the preservation criteria.

Source: Main Line Media News, “Local historic preservation program discussed in Narberth,” Cheryl Allison, Nov. 2, 2016