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Lancaster church loses appeal over spindles; Village Board suggests filing second petition with preservation group

The Lancaster Village Board on Monday ruled against the Lancaster Presbyterian Church in the church's standoff with historic preservationists over a set of spindles removed from the building's facade.

The church was appealing a decision by the village's Historic Preservation Commission that directed church officials to replace 15 deteriorated spindles that were removed during a repainting project.

Though the Village Board upheld the commission's ruling, trustees were sympathetic to the arguments of church officials and urged them to bring their case to the commission a second time to seek a more favorable ruling.

"I find the situation frustrating. This is really a relatively minor affair" that should be resolved at the commission level, Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr. said at Monday's hearing.

Church officials argued that the spindles aren't original to the building and they would rather put the substantial replacement cost -- an estimated $4,200 -- toward the church's core mission.

Historic preservationists argued that the spindles are part of the church's historic character. No one from the commission spoke at length during Monday's hearing, while Bill Stortz, the chairman of the church's board of trustees, gave an in-depth presentation.

"We agree this is a historical building, and we want to maintain it," Stortz said. "What we disagree on is the significance of the spindles."

The disagreement centers on 15 spindles built into wood trim on the facade of the church at 5461 Broadway.

The church building, the oldest in Lancaster, dates to 1831, but officials disagree over whether the 1-foot-tall spindles were included in the original facade.

The facade did include wooden spindles in the early 1970s, when damaged spindles were replaced with cheaper, plastic spindles of the same shape and size. Those plastic spindles broke apart as contractors worked with them during a major repainting project last summer.

Wary of the cost and difficulty of replacing them with wooden spindles, church officials sought a variance from the Historic Preservation Commission, which has authority in this case because the church is in Lancaster's historic preservation district.

The Village Board wasn't re-hearing the case but was simply deciding whether the commission acted reasonably in making its ruling, Village Attorney Arthur A. Herdzik said at the outset.

Stortz, in making the argument for the church, said there isn't any conclusive evidence to show the building's facade originally included the spindles.

He said the church would be willing to install the spindles, if directed to do so, but he emphasized the difficulty and the expense and said the church has better things to do with its money.

"Let's be reasonable. Cost has to be a consideration," Stortz said.

Cansdale seemed open to postponing the hearing to give the Village Board a chance to hear from commission Chairman Michael Meyer or to sending the matter to the commission for a rehearing, but Herdzik advised that the board should make an up-or-down decision at Monday's hearing.

The Village Board ultimately voted 4-0 to reject the church's appeal. But trustees urged Stortz and other church leaders to use evidence not included in the church's first application in a second petition to the commission.

"I think the two entities should try to work it out themselves," Trustee William C. Schroeder said.

Stortz told trustees he would file another application with the commission, though it's not clear whether panel members would rule differently the second time.