The city is set to crack down on a Clinton Hill church it says has been illegally congregating in a Waverly Avenue building — and creating what neighbors are calling a high and holy ruckus.
According to the city, the Celestial Church of Christ, a Nigerian Baptist congregation, has been illegally gathering in a building zoned as an art gallery for the last 15 years.
“Within the next few weeks we will seek resolution through the criminal court,” said Kate Lindquist, a Department of Buildings spokeswoman.
The Buildings Department was prompted to action by the church’s neighbors, who have long complained about its tendency to make a racket Sunday that they say even God couldn’t ignore (and maybe that’s the point).
Real-estate broker Doug Bowen and his actress wife, Gerri LiBrandi, who own a brownstone on Clinton Avenue just north of Myrtle — and right behind the church — say they have asked the church to quiet down since they moved there in 1999.
“We all want to have our weekends, too,” said Bowen. “We can’t use our own property on Sundays, from 10 am to 4 pm, and during Friday and Tuesday night services.”
Bowen’s upstairs tenant, Kathryn Fox, described the noise in detail.
“It starts with this wood clacking, like two sticks beating together, and then it goes into an all out jump-fest, with mics,” said Fox, whose bedroom window faces the church. “It’s drumbeats and a keyboard all day long. And then this one guy starts singing — pretty poorly, I might add.”
Fox said that he has been forced to alter her schedule to allow for adequate sleep on Sunday.
“I’ve actually planned to come home early on Saturday, so that [I get enough sleep before services start Sunday morning],” said Fox. “Or I’ve slept on my couch in the morning since it’s further away from the window.”
Fox has lived behind the church for more than five years, but her next-door neighbor, Beuford Smith, said the church has been a nuisance since it moved in 15 years ago.
“This has been an ongoing battle,” said Smith. “I went to the precinct I don’t know how many times.”
For their part, both Bowen and Fox have repeatedly called 311, and Bowen has met with the community affairs officers of the 88th Precinct and with members of the church.
“It was not productive,” he said. “They always pull the God card and the race card. They’ve been vehement and openly hostile to me and my wife. They’ve called her a witch to her face, and me, a pestilence.”
But Ayoola Soetan, who handles community affairs for the church, denied there are any problems with its neighbors.
“Whatever information you received is incorrect,” he said. “They should accommodate us as we accommodate them. We are there to do our services and we don’t disturb anybody.”
He went on to call one frequent complainer “obsessive.”
But the noise complaints are not the church’s only problem.
The owners of the church owe about $20,000 for violations accrued over the past decade, according to the Buildings Department.
The most recent violation, from Feb. 10, cites the owner for “occupancy contrary to the [certificate of occupancy].” The owners of the church failed to show up for an April 2 hearing, adding another $2,500 fine.
While that should please Bowen and GiBrandi, Smith — whose residency in the neighborhood predates the church — stood up for it.
“The church has been a problem for the past 15 years, but they’ve improved a great deal,” he said. “And as I told [Gerry and Doug], ‘Were you aware of this church when you bought the property?’”
©2007 Community News Group
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