Rockford Catholic chancery demolition delayed by county judge

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A Winnebago County judge extended a ‘stop work’ order on the demolition of the former Catholic Diocese of Rockford chancery building, at 1245 North Court Street, on Friday.

Tensions ran high in a Winnebago County courtroom on Friday as sides made their case for the building.

“We live to fight another day, I think,” said activist Carol Jambor-Smith, of the citizen’s group Save Piety Hill.

Preservation advocates filed a lawsuit against the City of Rockford to stop the demolition on Thursday. A hearing seeking a temporary restraining order was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday, and just hours before that, a bulldozer started work on the chancery.

The Rockford Diocese had been granted a demolition permit by the City late Thursday night.

“When our attorney, who is from Chicago, whose practice specializes in zoning and historic preservation, arrived on the scene and saw all the lawyers here and the bulldozer ready to go, actually, not ready to go, actually beginning demolition, the term he used was ‘outrageous,'” said Mark Bonne, an advocate against the chancery’s demolition.

Rockford alderman voted against granting the building status as a historic landmark. 

City Legal Director Nick Meyer said that, at this point, the court can’t overturn the city council’s decision. “When a city council or any other legislative body makes a legislative decision, those decisions cannot be reviewed by a court in the absence of a constitutional issue, or whether it was arbitrary or capricious ” Meyer said Friday. “We don’t believe, in this case, those facts were alleged and can be proven, that the council’s decision was not unconstitutional.”

Meyer says the residents opposed to the demolition don’t have legal standing in the case, based on where they live. He says he believes the city has followed all appropriate steps and procedures.

But, advocates for the chancery say they will take whatever steps are necessary to save the 90-year-old building.

“If it goes, that piece of the city, that piece of history, is gone forever,” said Jambor-Smith.

Attorneys for the Diocese were present in court, but not named in the complaint.

After the judge’s ruling, they spoke up and said they will file a petition to intervene.

Both sides are due back in court next Friday.

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