After two Gettysburg Borough panels debated compliance plans this week for a log chapel, you’d think the church operator wanted to place neon signs in front of the building, and construct metal doors.
No, not the case this time (although metal doors and neon signs will always be a controversial issue in this Civil War town.)
In this case, the Chambersburg Street church was built illegally (five years ago), and its operator (the U.S. Christian Commission) has been told to comply with zoning laws, or shut it down.
The illegally-built log chapel in downtown Gettysburg didn’t receive welcoming reviews during two separate meetings Monday and Tuesday night, before the town’s Planning Commission and Historical Architectural Review Board.
It’s no surprise.
The chapel, according to borough officials, shouldn’t be there — at 112 Chambersburg Street — in the first place.
It was built five years ago, without proper permits, and doesn’t meet zoning laws, such as stormwater management, parking, electric, plumbing and ADA codes. The borough wants the church, owned by the U.S. Christian Commission, to comply or disappear.
Compliance won’t be easy.
Town planners and HARB members aren’t happy that the church was built in the first place, without complying with borough laws.
Borough Planner Merry V. Bush noted that in 2005-06, U.S. Christian Commission Director John Wega presented plans for a fence and deck, and “that’s it.” “That’s what he got approved for, (and) nothing else,” she explained.
The five-member planning commission, missing two members Monday night, determined that it couldn’t make a decision, and that the U.S. Christian Commission should go before the town’s Zoning Hearing Board for a ruling
Twenty-four hours later, HARB denied a certificate of appropriateness application filed by Wega and the USCC, pointing out that the chapel ignored zoning laws over the past five years.
“You knew HARB was here. You built it (the wooden chapel) anyway,” HARB Vice Chairman Elwood W. Christ told Wega.
In 2002-03, a fire leveled an apartment building at 112 Chambersburg Street, and caused damage to the neighboring property, the Ragged Edge Coffee Shop. Three years later, the USCC appeared before HARB, seeking permission to construct a fence and walled platform at the site for church services.
At that time, the re-enactors elected to employ a tent to hold period services and discussions within.
Since then, the property evolved into a Civil War style log chapel, which Wega believes is a tourist attraction. But no permits were issued, borough leaders argue.
“You never came to us to do this (erect a wooden structure),” said HARB member Peggy Gustafson.
Christ added that the “building itself is not harmonious with the streetscape. This is not appropriate for the downtown...(This is not an) appropriate site for this type of structure.”
Gettysburg Borough Council Vice President Holliday Giles and Councilwoman Alice Estrada have voiced favorable comments about the church, noting that it adds character and ambience to the Civil War town. Wega has said that the church represents an “historical experience” and that it’s a tourist attraction.
Similarly, Hanover resident Jane Lingenfelder — who attends services at the chapel — believes that the building is “so much more than a church.”
“It has a positive historic presence,” she said. “It’s so positive that I’m asking you to do whatever it takes to keep it here.” “It’s become an icon.”
The future doesn’t look promising for the popular church on Chambersburg Street.
It’s an unfortunate situation, that would have avoided this scrutiny, if the laws were followed in the first place.
~ Submitted by: Scot A. Pitzer, Times Staff Writer