When the Government Has To Approve Repairs to Your Church

In Palm Beach, where else?

In its unanimous approval of the repair project, the board also gave Smith permission to replace wood transom windows above the front doors with bronze windows in a style that would closely match the door pattern.

Smith plans to replace the church’s announcement sign with a slightly smaller bronze-framed case that would have an arch at its top and a crucifix. The new sign, like the existing one, would still be larger than what current code allows.

The church in question is St. Edward’s Catholic Church, where the Kennedys said their (badly needed) mea culpa’s when they were at their Palm Beach compound. It’s a gorgeous Spanish style church, and when I first stepped in it in 1972 it made an impression.  (And that, mind you, to someone who came from this, just down County Road).  To match the Spanish look, the original Palm Beach Publix, a block over, adopted the same style, which they used in their stores for many years after that.

In 1990 it was designated a town landmark, which means that the town just about has to approve any “improvement” (including repairs) to the place.  The process can be an ordeal, and the town has other ways to make life complicated for houses of worship, as Temple Israel (also on County Road with St. Edward’s) found out last year.

We normally associate government approval of construction or repairs to houses of worship to places like Egypt, where the Mubarak government used that against the Copts.  The Copts have more pressing problems these days under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  But one of the purposes of the blog is not only to tell people “it can happen here” but “it’s already happening here”.  Use of zoning and building codes is a subtle but effective way to wear down (and out) religious groups, one that’s hard to counteract at law.  That’s not what the Town is trying to do here (St. Edward’s is too well entrenched in the Palm Beach scene) but it’s certainly been done for that reason elsewhere.

One item I found gratifying was the following:

“The stone frontispiece is leaking terribly into the church,” Smith said. The head of Smith Architectural Group, he said he’s been a member of the church for 43 years and that the leaking has been a problem for at least that long.

That means that it was leaking when I first visited the place.  I’m glad to see that the Roman Catholic Church, not known for its quick handing of difficulties, is finally tackling this issue, although again it had to get the Town’s permission to do so.

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