By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — First the city, then a Winnebago County judge halted demolition of the former chancery building on the city’s northwest side Friday morning.
The first measure occurred a little after 9 a.m., when city officials issued a stop-work order because the demolition company hired by the Catholic Diocese did not properly notify neighbors.
The city issued the demolition permit just before 5 p.m., Thursday–the same day activist group Save Piety Hill and members of Signal Hill Neighborhood Association filed a motion for a temporary restraining order.
Judge Lisa Fabiano ruled for the plaintiffs, requiring the city to keep the stop-work order in place at least until after next week’s preliminary hearing.
“We are pleased that we bought some time,” former Rockford Ald. Carol Jambor-Smith, a member of Save Piety Hill, said after the hearing. “This is all about saving the building that we very much believe has value to the community.”
Friday’s proceedings were heated at times, with most of the objections coming from Adam Kingsley, attorney for the plaintiffs. Kingsley pleaded with Fabiano to stop attorneys Tom Lester and Rick Porter from interjecting their opinion that her ruling would unduly affect the diocese.
“This is unacceptable,” Kingsley said. “They should not be allowed to speak.”
The diocese was not named in the lawsuit, however, Fabiano instructed Lester and Porter to file a motion to be heard at the preliminary hearing.
Lester and Porter both argued that Thursday’s complaint was without merit as the demolition permit was issued before the hearing, meaning the permit is now property of the diocese. City Legal Director Nick Meyer made the same argument and said the court does not have jurisdiction to overturn the decision of a municipality absent a constitutional violation unless it was arbitrary or capricious.
“City Council did follow procedure,” Meyer said, adding that there is no state statute that requires a city council to follow the recommendation of a historic preservation commission. “We followed the process.”
The next hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m., Friday, May 24.
This story will be updated.