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 Sacred Heart Catholic Church, above, and Erin Presbyterian Church, below, both in Roseville, were closed in recent years and the sale of the properties by their respective owners has many residents concerned about the loss of two venerable landmarks in the community and what might replace them at their locations.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, above, and Erin Presbyterian Church, below, both in Roseville, were closed in recent years and the sale of the properties by their respective owners has many residents concerned about the loss of two venerable landmarks in the community and what might replace them at their locations.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Residents worry about future of historic Roseville church properties

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published August 16, 2019

Photo by Erin Sanchez

ROSEVILLE — Dozens of Roseville residents attended the community’s regular City Council meeting Aug. 13 to voice concerns about the sale of two church properties.

The churches are Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Erin Presbyterian Church. Both are historic sites that have been pillars in the Roseville community for decades and were closed in recent years. The Erin Presbyterian property was sold to a developer in October of 2017 and the Sacred Heart property is up for sale.

Several residents spoke about what the loss of the two beloved structures would mean to people, and also how whatever goes in their places along the Gratiot corridor could lower home values and replace beautiful landmarks with something that could mean little or nothing to the greater community.

“I have talked to a few members of the community who are having these concerns,” said Holly Fournier, media and public relations manager for the Archdiocese of Detroit, which owns Sacred Heart. “We’ve talked about how the archdiocese is made of parishioners like them and we’ve seen churches closed — the church I was married in closed, for instance — and how that can be heartbreaking, but it’s important for people to know that we only will close and sell buildings that would require enough work to financially devastate the parish. 

“This often happens when a parish clusters and multiple sites are included in one parish, and we look at what it would take to maintain each of the buildings. From that information, we make the decision on which building we unfortunately have to close. That way, the resources we would need to keep an empty building standing can be redirected to an active building. That’s what we ultimately need for our parishes to survive.”

The administrators of Erin Presbyterian said declining attendance made closure of their church unavoidable.

“With the lack of community support attending worship we were not able to sustain such a large facility,” said Kevin Smith, a former elder and board member of Erin Presbyterian, in an email. “When we closed, our average Sunday attendance was 20. It is sad to see a beautiful landmark set for the wrecking ball. Unfortunately the public concern over the sale has lost its sincerity. The church has been in declining attendance for several years. As for what will replace the beautiful stained glass lined sanctuary, (it) is still to be determined.”

Sacred Heart, which was founded in 1861, was officially closed in January of 2017 and put up for sale in June of 2017. The archdiocese declined to disclose the amount they were asking for regarding the property. Erin Presbyterian, founded in 1860 and moved to its current building in 1960, officially ceased operations in July of 2017 and was put up for sale in April 2017.

The archdiocese said it is encouraging those they are negotiating the sale with to preserve all or part of the property, but that once the property is sold, the decision is out of the archdiocese’s hands.

“We are talking with a buyer who we are not disclosing yet, as nothing is final,” said Fournier. “The potential buyers we are talking to want to keep the belltower standing. They are looking at the costs to do so and whether that is feasible. That being said, once we sell a property, we have no say in what they do with it.” 

Kathy Bidoul was one resident who spoke out at the Aug. 13 meeting. She said that replacing the two institutions with “cheap chain stores” would be detrimental to Roseville as a whole.

“We’re ready to take this to the streets. People at the (council) meeting said they were willing to chain themselves to the building to stop the bulldozers. People are very upset about this,” she said. “I don’t see anything being beautified in this city, and (Sacred Heart) is a beautiful building, probably the prettiest in the city. … I’m tired of everything of historic value in this town getting torn down.”

Some residents have asked the city to take action to preserve the sites, but city officials said that, because they are privately owned institutions, they have no say in if the properties are sold or who they are sold to.

“The property owners made the decisions to close these properties,” said Roseville City Manager Scott Adkins. “We want to encourage the best possible use of these properties, but the decision is ultimately out of our hands. We have limited control over property owner rights.”

The city said both properties would be rezoned from single-family residential, as they are currently designated since there are no specific zoning designations for houses of worship, to mixed use or general business because that is what the city’s master plan states regarding properties along the Gratiot corridor.

“We really don’t have any residential properties remaining on Gratiot,” Adkins said. “They’re all either mixed use or business. We created the master plan with the public’s input, and this is what they said they wanted. The Gratiot corridor is a commercial corridor, not just in Roseville but throughout Macomb County. However, if it were rezoned as mixed use, it could be apartments, townhouses or other multi-resident residential properties.”

Bidoul said she believes the city is not being forthright about this matter.

“I think it’s a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” she said. “They didn’t want people getting mad at the fact that they’re rezoning it commercial, and saying they can’t change it is a bunch of B.S. to me. If it’s already zoned residential, there’s nothing stopping them from keeping it residential and not rezoning it for business.” 

The Roseville City Council did approve the establishment of a commercial rehabilitation district for both sites at the same council meeting. The establishment of such a district could help convince whoever buys the properties to preserve certain aspects of the historic buildings or use the properties in certain ways through the use of tax incentives.

“All a commercial rehabilitation district does is encourage the redevelopment of a property,” said Adkins. “It is the city incentivizing, guiding and encouraging the development of a historic property. That does not mean the developer is required to do anything. If they want to request rezoning or request a variance or what have you, they can do that.”

He said the establishment of such districts has worked well before.

“Using commercial rehabilitation districts like this have been very successful in the past for us,” said Adkins. “One was the former Kmart site on 13 Mile and Little Mack. It sat vacant for several years and we were able to work with Kroger to make it a Kroger Marketplace, which is a higher end business than the regular Kroger store, when they bought it. It turned an $8 million project into a $20 million project. You can potentially get a lot from using these districts.” 

Some residents said they hope such a measure would work, but believe more must be done.

“One of the first rumors was that a storage building would go in, in its place,” said Bidoul. “(The city) said there was no evidence of that, but the point is, we don’t need another thing like that in those places. If they replace it with something that betters the community, a lot of us who are concerned about this whole situation would feel better. It could serve as a banquet hall or a center to help homeless (people) or those in need or something like that. That would better the community and maybe maintain the buildings as they are now. To replace it with something that could go anywhere and mean nothing to people would be a travesty.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.