Church's plan to demolish Bremerton homes stirs controversy: 'We kind of got ambushed'
BREMERTON, Wash. -- A Catholic church in Bremerton plans to demolish two homes to build a new rectory, but the previous owners of one property say it was never part of the plan and they’ve been misled.
“Pretty devastating,” said Terri Romero.
Romero is the ex-wife of the previous owner, Patrick Westhoff, but has remained close with the family. The couple had children together.
The craftsman-style home, located at 418 Veneta Avenue, is part of the Westhoff family's history but it was sold in 2014 after Patrick Westhoff's death.
The home was purchased by the Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle. There were no covenants when the house was sold, but Romero said there was a verbal agreement with Fr. Derek Lappe at Our Lady Star of the Sea.
“The verbal agreement with Lappe was that they were going to remodel the home for him to live in -- that was the whole understanding we had,” said Romero.
Our Lady Star of the Sea wants to knock down the craftsman-style homes on Veneta Avenue to build a rectory for the priest. It’s part of an ongoing project as the congregation establishes a nunnery.
“We felt that we kind of got ambushed because it was always an understanding that because (the Westhoffs) were a very strong Catholic family that they wanted the church to have the home,” said Romero who met with Fr. Lappe last week after learning about the demolition plans.
A worker at the parish office on Monday said Fr. Derek Lappe was out of town and doesn't want to comment.
“This neighborhood is slowly turning into a Catholic campus,” said Angela Flesher who lives across the street from the homes slated for demolition.
Flesher fears the demolition will ruin the look of the neighborhood- the two craftsman-style homes are nearly a century-old.
"It’s an iconic street," said Flesher. "When I tell people where I live and I say 'We’re on the block where the sequoia trees are' everybody says this is one of their favorite neighborhoods in Bremerton."
On the church's website, the church says the homes couldn't be repurposed for the rectory because the "age and configuration of the homes isn't conducive to the kind of living space required." The FAQ section was posted about two weeks ago, which Flesher said was the first notice to residents about the plans for the demolition.
“We understand this is their property. We understand they get to do what they want to do with it but we as community and taxpayers we would like the ability to be able to at least be part of the conversation,” said Flesher.
Meanwhile, Romero’s family is trying to salvage what they can from the home. Her daughter removed the “418” numbers on the front porch and some of the siding. They also removed a rose bush so Romero’s daughters can plant it in their own yards.
“It’s just really a sad, sad thing because it did mean a lot to the family. Lots of memories,” said Romero.
The Building Official for the city of Bremerton will review the church's plans for the property. The process could take a couple of months.