Historic preservation group battles Catholic Diocese

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ROCKFORD, Ill (WIFR) -- The land north of Salem Street became controversial when a historic preservation group, Save Piety Hill, filed an application to make it part of a historic district.

Piety Hill controversy

The land is owned by the Catholic Church and Diocese.

"We ask that the council recognize our right to use and own our property to exercise our First Amendment right, to express our religious beliefs and principals without government interference," says Patt Winn, Director of the Rockford Diocese and Catholic Charities.

The Diocese tore down the Chancery building, north of Salem Street, in June. Now, the advocacy group is concerned they will demolish St. Peter School.

"It's just a shame that we keep losing things," says Steve Schach, who grew up in the area and signed the petition. "We just have parking lots and empty land."

The Diocese stated they have not expressed intent to tear down the school.

Many expressed concern, believing that the Diocese is abandoning Rockford's west side. "They should have a little bit more appreciation of the neighborhood, and the people who live up there," says Schach.

Tuesday night, Save Piety Hill urged the community to pack City Council for the hearing. Historic experts explained the significance of the land and the buildings. They said under the proposed Piety Hill Historic District, two schools and nine homes would qualify.

The area south of Salem Street is already part of a nationally recognized historic district.

Lawyers for the Church expressed frustration with the application, and called on council members to deny it. They found alleged flaws in the application, including lack of necessary signatures.

Council members motioned to reconvene after they review legal matters discussed at the meeting.