Coming soon to a historic district near you: brand, spanking new blades of grass.

Reversing two previous denials, New Albany’s Historic Preservation Commission voted 4-3 Thursday evening to allow St. Mark’s United Church of Christ to demolish a former bank it owns at 202 E. Spring St.

The dividing issue was the incompleteness of state and city laws governing non-contributing — essentially, not historic — buildings that lie in historic districts, where major and minor aspects of a structure must be compatible with those surrounding it.

Scott Wood, the city’s chief planner and a non-voting member of the commission, said the church could obtain demolition and zoning permits from the city within a week and be cleared to work.

Members have contributed $30,000 toward the demolition, but “first things first,” said Alan Mason, chairman of the church’s demolition permit committee — the sanctuary’s air conditioning is broken and the roof is leaking, and those repairs take precedent.

St. Mark’s will hold more fundraisers in the fall, Mason said. Though at one time the church proposed a meditation garden on the grounds of the bank building, there’s been no decision about what to build as a replacement.

The plan now is, “we’ll plant grass and we’ll talk about it,” Mason said. The bank building costs too much to maintain with heating and air-conditioning, he added, hence the decision to remove it.

“In its current condition, we can’t use it,” Mason said.

St. Mark’s hired attorney John Kraft to demonstrate that nothing in the law forbids knocking down a non-contributing building. Had approval not been given, Kraft said, the case could have continued with a Circuit Court lawsuit to compel approval.

But City Attorney Shane Gibson advised commission members in a private executive session that there wasn’t a clear law to base their rejection on. Even so, members Brandon Smith, Mark Sanders and Bill Transue voted against the demolition. Smith said after the meeting that there had once been debate over whether the bank building should be considered to be contributing.

“This is probably one of the most difficult issues the commission has faced,” said Smith, who joined the panel last year.

Chairman Ted Fulmore, Randy Lescault, Maury Goldberg and Vicky Nugent voted in favor. David Barksdale and Brett Scharlow were absent, and the motion passed with a majority of present members voting yes.

About 15 members of St. Mark’s attended the special meeting and filed out happily after the approval.

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