Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
City of Pittsburgh, Appellant
Argued: May 9, 2018
BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge
HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT
SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE
ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge
HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge
appeal, the City of Pittsburgh (City) asks whether the Court
of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) erred in
vacating the Council of the City of Pittsburgh's (City
Council) designation of a structure as historic. The
dispositive issue is whether, under the Pittsburgh Code
(Code), a structure may be designated "historic"
where the structure's owner objects to the designation
and City Council does not vote in favor of the designation,
but rather the designation occurs as a result of City
Council's inaction, i.e., its deemed approval.
Concluding it may not, we affirm the trial court's
vacation of the "deemed" historical designation.
property at issue is located at 486 South Graham Street in
the City (subject property). The subject property is improved
with a structure that housed what was formerly known as the
Albright Community United Methodist Church (Church). The
owner of record of the subject property is the Western Annual
Conference of the United Methodist Church (Conference). All
real estate owned by Methodist churches, although often held
in the name of the local church, is encumbered by a trust
imposed through church law and recognized by the Supreme
Court of Pennsylvania. Tr. Ct., Slip Op., 11/20/17, at 2
(citing W. Pa. Conference of United Methodist Church v.
Everson Evangelical Church of N. Am., 312 A.2d 35 (Pa.
November 2013, the Church ceased occupying the structure on
the subject property. As a result, the subject property fell
into a state of disrepair. When the Church became unable to
maintain, support and use the subject property, the
Conference began to pay certain costs and expenses and
otherwise maintain and secure the subject property.
August 2015, certain individuals submitted a nomination to
the City's Historic Review Commission (HRC) to designate
the subject property as historic. This nomination included a
letter on Church stationery that purported to show the
owner's consent. When the Conference became aware of the
nomination, it contacted the City's Law Department to
notify it that the Conference was the owner of the subject
property. As a result, the HRC declined to accept the first
an individual filed a second nomination petition with the HRC
to designate the structure on the subject property as
historic. The Conference objected to the nomination. Despite
the Conference's objection, the HRC accepted the second
nomination, and it notified the Conference that it was
prohibited from exercising certain property rights, including
altering the exterior of the structure on the subject
Conference's Chancellor wrote to the HRC to provide
further opposition to the HRC's consideration of the
historic nomination. Thereafter, Conference representatives
attended the HRC's February 2016 public meeting and
objected to consideration of the nomination on various
grounds, including that the HRC lacked jurisdiction under the
Code. Over the Conference's objection, the HRC received
evidence on the nomination.
March 2016, the HRC conducted a second hearing on the
nomination at which the Conference again objected. The HRC
voted to recommend that the subject property be designated
historic over these objections.
two months later, the City Planning Commission (Planning
Commission) held a public hearing on the second nomination.
Counsel for the Conference appeared and objected to the
jurisdiction of the Planning Commission and the City
concerning the second nomination. Nevertheless, the Planning
Commission voted to approve the second nomination. The
Planning Commission transmitted its decision to City Council.
2016, a resolution regarding the second nomination of the
subject property was introduced before City Council and was
read and referred to a committee. The Conference submitted a
written objection to the nomination to the City Clerk in July
2016. Thereafter, City Council held a public hearing.
the Conference's Chancellor and its counsel appeared at
the hearing and contested the nomination and the City's
jurisdiction to deem the property historic. City Council
never voted on whether the subject property should be
designated historic. Nevertheless, the City Clerk issued
an official disposition reflecting that the status of the
designation of the structure on the subject property as
historic "Passed Finally" and "Passed pursuant
to Case Law." Tr. Ct., Slip Op., at 4; Certified Record
(C.R.), Item #1, Ex. 1. The Conference filed an appeal to the
the trial court, the parties filed briefs and presented oral
argument. Thereafter, the trial court issued an order
sustaining the Conference's appeal and vacating the
historic designation of the structure on the subject
property. The City filed a notice of appeal to this Court,
and the trial court directed it to file a concise statement
of the errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P.
1925(b), which it did. The trial court subsequently issued an
opinion pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(a) in which it explained
the rationale for its order. Of particular relevance here,
the trial court explained:
The [Code] is clear in that, where the owner of a nominated
property objects to the proposed historic designation, the
designation of a nominated structure, site, or object shall
require the affirmative vote of six (6) members of City
Council. Despite the [Conference's] continuous objections
at each and every step of these proceedings, the City
erroneously and unconstitutionally concluded that a deemed
approval occurred despite written opposition by the owner.
An approval without City Council action is only appropriate
if the owner of the property failed to object to the
recommendations made by the HRC and Planning Commission. In
the case sub judice, the [Conference] has
strenuously and consistently objected to the City's
recommendation. The [Code] provides that, '[t]he
designation of a nominated structure, site, or object shall
require the affirmative vote of six (6) members of [City]
Council if the owner or [sic] record of the property has
submitted to [City] Council his or her written and signed
opposition to the designation of the property[.]'
[Section 1101.03(j)(2) of the Code.] An affirmative vote by
six (6) members of City Council has yet to occur.
Tr. Ct., Slip Op., at 9-10 (footnotes omitted). This matter
is now before us for disposition.
appeal, the City presents three issues:
 Did the [trial court] abused [sic] its discretion when
there was substantial evidence in the record for the [l]ocal
[a]gency to find that the structure in this case was no
longer being used for religious worship, and thus was not
eligible for the narrowly tailored self-nomination exception
for historic designation of religious structures used as ...