Vacant church may be home to ‘city’ of rats currently plaguing Narberth


In parts of Narberth, beneath shade trees and fluffy hammocks, showy flowers and manicured hedges, loathsome vermin now roam and frolic.

It was high time, locals say, to see rats rarely, if ever, in this sought-after Main Line enclave, where some homes cost well over a million dollars. But lately, a few scavenger predators have been on the loose.

“I saw one the other night, scampering across the street,” said John Munroe, 21, a rising political science student at Chestnut Hill College and a resident of the South Side of the borough. “No one has ever talked about rats all my life here.

“But now it’s raw and recent.”

Ask neighbors for the source, and they all point to one location: the long-empty Gospel Baptist Church on Elmwood Avenue, a decaying, abandoned 131-year-old gray stone building sitting in opposite Narberth SEPTA station and surrounded by a fence with a “Private Property Prohibited” sign.

The fact is, no one can say for sure if the church is the command center for the rats – although many people who are currently complaining about the germinative creatures live near the building.

“My boyfriend saw one in our parking lot,” said Sabrina Johnson, 41, a first-grade teacher at a Quaker school on the Main Line. His house is a few meters from the church. “My daughter saw a rat in the driveway across the street. And one of my neighbors had a rat in his kitchen on the second floor. On the second floor!

“It’s annoying – just nothing I want to see. I grew up in West Philly, where my family has seen its share of rats. But here, living with people who have financial stability, rats are something that you usually don’t have to worry.

A homeowner whose land adjoins the church and who did not want to be identified because she was embarrassed about rats swarming her property, said she had contacted a private exterminator who could not do an inspection but had guessed that there was a whole “city of rats”. » gathered inside the old place of worship.

Could he be right?

“It is a myth that everything abandoned buildings harbor rats,” said Dion Lerman, a rodent, bedbug and cockroach expert with the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program at Penn State Extension Philadelphia County Office in the Navy Yard.

But if rats have access to food (often garbage, birds, and insects) as well as fresh water, they could very well populate a vacant structure, even if they prefer outdoor burrows, a explained Lerman. (As a side note, as a special warning for suburban bird lovers with backyards, Lerman added that bird feeders often attract rats, which love to search for fallen seed.)

As if anyone needed to understand that rats are filthy creatures to be avoided, Lerman said they can transmit “a few dozen” diseases, including “salmonella, E. coli infections and others. things you don’t want to know”.

Beyond that, they are apparently remorseless arsonists: rodents, including rats, are responsible for 20% of fires of undetermined origin in the United States because they gnaw through electrical wires (the word “rodent ” is the Latin word for gnaw), believing them to be stems producing delicious seeds, Lerman said.

Although Munroe and others said they’ve never seen rats in Narberth so far, others in town have reported them — at least sporadically — dating back to at least 2016, according to enforcement officer Kevin Walsh. of the building code for the borough.

Yet if the church has been vacant for seven years, as Narberth officials say, why have people detected a wave of rats in recent weeks?

Several neighbors reported seeing a construction vehicle on the church grounds digging or clearing brush recently, which they believe dislodged rats and caused them to flood the neighborhood.

This prompted Johnson to voice the fear she and her Narberth neighbors have been voicing in a crescendo of late:

What happens when the church is demolished, an event expected in the coming weeks?

“They all have,” Johnson said, pausing to emphasize, “everything will come out. »

Rat tsunamis are, one might think, unsavory events. How real is the possibility?

“Oh, if you don’t control a population before you destroy a structure it lives in, it will scatter,” Lerman said.

But Walsh offered a reassuring thought: “Before the demolition, I’m going to do a tour and make sure the proper extermination facilities are in place.”

Will that be enough? ask the owners in distress.

It is the responsibility of site owner Jason Gordon, listed as a Chartered Accountant for Bala Cynwyd, to eliminate all rodents before demolishing the church, Walsh said.

Gordon, who did not respond to requests for comment, is a well-known figure in the borough.

He originally offered to turn part of the church property into a site for his business and said he would need several street parking spaces.

This has created an uproar in Narberth, where parking is scarce and residents oppose the construction of any commercial structures in southern Narberth.

“We are concerned about rampant business activity,” said retired owner Rosemary McDonough, 68. “The unwritten rule here is that the south side of town should remain entirely residential.”

Reading the mood, Gordon withdrew the site plan, which now calls for about 20 residential units, Walsh said.

But before they are built, attention will have to be paid to the fauna that does or does not exist in and around the old church.

“I hope the borough will warn us to keep our doors and windows closed when the building collapses,” Johnson said.

“Seeing rats – not the best view here.”

Writer Ryan W. Briggs contributed to this article.


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