Chapel could face closure

Posted: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 12:24 am

The operator of a Civil War chapel in Gettysburg begged Borough Council Monday night to let the wooden structure remain open, even though it does not comply with zoning laws.

In an passionate plea before council, U.S. Christian Commission Director John Wega noted that the log chapel on Chambersburg Street has become “one of the most photographed places in Gettysburg,” since it opened four years ago.

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  • Fire Marshal Bill posted at 7:42 am on Mon, Aug 2, 2010.

    Fire Marshal Bill Posts: 168

    I don't believe the objective of the borough officials, or the code enforcement is to eliminate the chapel. I believe the goal is to have a building that is in compliance with the zoning, Historical Architectural Review Board and the Uniform Construction Code.

    This is a very involved issue. Even if the structure is brought into compliance with the Building Code, but isn't approved by the Zoning Board or HARB, it is still not a legal structure. The building has to come into compliance with all three.

    I see no personal attack on Rev. Wega. Those involved do not want to be accused of selective enforcement of their various codes and standards. The intent is to apply the various standard equally for everyone.

    As for the "temporary" structure, i believe the UCC definition of a TEMPORARY structure is for only up to six months.

  • HISTORIAN posted at 11:14 pm on Sun, Aug 1, 2010.

    HISTORIAN Posts: 16

    I think the easiest solution to the problem would be for Mr. Wega to remove the wooden roof and replace the canvas one. This should not be expensive and would take care of the building code problem.

  • lincoln grimes posted at 7:39 am on Sat, Jul 31, 2010.

    lincoln grimes Posts: 38

    As we should all know by now, the chapel on Chambersburg street was recently vandalized. A woman reported observing teenagers running down an alley at the time of the incident. And so another misfortune faces John Wega, the pastor of the historic Civil War chapel. According to local and state statutes, the building is not in compliance with building specifications. Perhaps there will be a difference of opinion in the decision to do away with this historic structure. Wega has suffered enough! This chapel,after renovations will become a historic building in the borrough. This is what Gettysburg is all about. Think about it lawmakers, let the construction proceed. People do worship in this chapel, and if you want to remove it, this would constitute an agregious act.

  • Fire Marshal Bill posted at 1:55 pm on Fri, Jul 30, 2010.

    Fire Marshal Bill Posts: 168

    G-burgFan, this is much like purchasing an antique vehicle. if i purchase a true antique vehicle I can restore it to original condition. If the original vehicle did not have turn signals, or seat belts or shock absorbing bumpers i don't need to put them on, as long as everything is just as it was when original.

    But should I purchase a reproduction of that same vehicle it must meet current inspection requirements.

  • G-burgFan posted at 6:06 am on Fri, Jul 30, 2010.

    G-burgFan Posts: 44

    Good grief...if we got rid of all of the historic structures because they weren't built to code, we wouldn't have any left. Albeit, this chapel is merely a recreation of what a Civil War Chapel might have looked like, it isn't reasonable to consider closing it down or demolishing it. Requiring historic buildings or reproductions of one to be brought "up to code" shouldn't even be an issue and please, Civil War era buildings did NOT have air-conditioning. Are we so spoiled that we're not capable of spending a few minutes pondering what life was like without A/C, indoor plumbing or flush toilets? And don't get me started on ADA compliance and a certain one-woman campaign to change the ambiance of the Town of Gettysburg forever. Get real...this is history, and our ancestors didn't have such luxuries. Why should we then demand all of the amenities we currently enjoy in our daily life when the whole purpose is to see, feel and imagine life in the Civil War Era?

  • Fire Marshal Bill posted at 1:15 pm on Wed, Jul 28, 2010.

    Fire Marshal Bill Posts: 168

    Strabanian, you are correct on the fact that it is not a historical recreation of any church in Gettysburg at the time, but it is intended (I think) to represent a military field chapel that would have been set up when the army went into camp.

    I don' t know of any documentation of one being set up any place in the Gettysburg area at the time of the battle, and with the number of churches we have in the area I doubt there would have been one. And if someone takes the time, most of the local churches talk of "visiting" soldiers visiting them while in the area.

  • Strabanian posted at 10:59 am on Wed, Jul 28, 2010.

    Strabanian Posts: 8

    It would be one thing if the chapel were an historic structure, as Fire Marshal Bill points out. But this isn't even a recreation of an existing structure in Gettysburg from the battle. It may not be a "shop or tour," but it is still "ticky-tacky" in that it is not accurate or correct for its context. Furthermore, it doesn't even approximate, "what a church in the township might have looked like back then." Why do we need to guess? We still have the churches that were in the borough at the battle period. St. Francis' interior in particular looks very much as it did then. No need to build unhistoric structures to approximate what still stands today.

  • Mr Bill posted at 8:21 am on Wed, Jul 28, 2010.

    Mr Bill Posts: 1

    Since this is to be the recreation of a historical type structure, may I suggest that perhaps some of the preservation organizations may want to throw in a few dollars to help. I believe the estimate was around $10,000 wasn't it? With all of the request these organizations have made for money to "save Gettysburg" or "Preserve Gettysburg" over the years, I feel sure they could provide some money to assist in preserving the historical character of this community.

    I feel sure that if all of these organizations that have been collecting money over the years were to each throw in a few dollars, they would have more than enough money to bring this little structure up to code, and maybe even air condition it.

  • Fire Marshal Bill posted at 9:36 pm on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    Fire Marshal Bill Posts: 168

    There is a big difference between a historic structure and a structure that is designed to be a historic recreation. If in fact it were a true historical building there would be very little problems with approval as it is. Yes some things would need to be done, but only minimal. But since it is a new structure that is a historical recreation, it must meet the current code. It must also be remember that the applicant has a procedure to apply for variances to any of the regulations.

    I myself like the looks of this building, but I know it does not meet the code requirements. These requirements are as stated by others for the safety of the occupants and of emergency responders as an afterthought.

    If all parties work together I am sure the situation can be resolved.

  • localguy posted at 9:24 pm on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    localguy Posts: 110

    My question is how or why did the local government let this project go this far? I remember when the chapel was basically a canvass tent pitched at the present site and over time a more permanet structure took place. Surely someone had to have noticed what was taking place, so why wasn't something done then?

  • Terry Lee posted at 6:30 pm on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    Terry Lee Posts: 10

    I bet if there was a ghost tour there, it wouldn't be a problem!

  • AmazinGrace posted at 2:32 pm on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    AmazinGrace Posts: 142

    Oh, of course, Gene Golden opposes. He has no regard for our history and has made as much clear. He would like things his way as we have seen in his long history of speeches at these meetings. I think it would be a positive step to try and work with the chapel people. This could be an asset to our historical places and is not a ticky-tacky shop or tour.

  • HISTORIAN posted at 1:28 pm on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    HISTORIAN Posts: 16

    It is interesting that the Board stated it is their duty to enforce regulations. Yes, only those they choose to enforce. How about the noisey idling busses, etc. Let the Chapel stand. I'm sure a compromise can be reached if the Board were willing to show some common sense. They always seem to go after the little guy.

  • Mike57 posted at 1:14 pm on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    Mike57 Posts: 1

    This is SO typical of city government all over the US. It took the boneheads 4 years to get around to complaining???

    When we were in Gettysburg, we stopped in at the church and found it to be a GREAT piece of re-created history. It offers an idea of what a church in the township might have looked like back then, plus it serves a purpose for those who want to worship God.

    I'd vote to leave it.

  • Strabanian posted at 10:38 am on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    Strabanian Posts: 8

    Bravo to the Borough for finally doing something about this illegal construction.

    What does Wega mean by, "there’s a quandary between the letter of the law and spirit of the law?” I believe the law is there explicitly to make sure that this shack doesn't fall in and kill anyone, and to make sure that if a fireman ever needs to enter it, that it doesn't kill him either. The law's letter and spirit are pretty clear.

  • Archangel posted at 9:38 am on Tue, Jul 27, 2010.

    Archangel Posts: 1

    This is a good reason to get toether a group a REAL grass roots organizers have a show down, heres the real deal,if you keep changing the historical value youll end up with a Saint Patricks Cathedral in the middle of a major city.Lets see recent news,500,000.00 to tear down and bury powerlines,(on battlefield park grounds,)a big deal about sceneryand a stone outhouse (set a historic feel to the open field)a so called life saving CASINO, looks like too many changes too fast and a rush ,especially when theres no money.Im wondering id the people of Gettysburg will ever regain control over there city.[wink]

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