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Flying in the face of one of the commandments of city governance — thou shall not offend religious institutions — the city is following through on its April promise to crack down on a Clinton Hill church whose members seem to believe that their faith in God allows them to flout city ordinances.
The Department of Buildings confirmed that belief in a higher being does not render one above the law by filing a Criminal Court summons against the Church of Celestial Christ, on Waverly Avenue, between Myrtle and Park avenues.
Neighbors of the Nigerian Baptist church were pleased.
Since moving to their Clinton Avenue brownstone just behind the church in 1999, real-estate broker Doug Bowen and actress Gerri LiBrandi have been battling the church as though their souls — or at least, their sanity — depended on it.
According to the couple and other area residents, the church has had a rather un-neighborly practice of hosting all-day, un-permitted, amplified Sunday services in a building zoned for residential use and equipped with little soundproofing. And it’s been going on for 15 years.
“They’re just terrible neighbors,” said Bowen.
But Bowen isn’t the only one heartened by the development.
The fact that the city is willing to take on a church came as welcome news to Derek Araujo, executive director of the Center for Inquiry, which advocates for church-state separation.
“It’s becoming more and more of a problem throughout the country, where you’re seeing churches challenging generally applicable ordinances and zoning laws, and seeking religious exemptions,” said Araujo.
“It’s definitely inappropriate for them to expect special treatment just because they speak for the religious community,” he added. “But because of the special treatment, perhaps they’ve come to expect special treatment.”
Araujo has a point. After all, look at the city’s move just two years ago to ban parking-meter fees on Sunday — a practice opponents derisively dubbed the “pay to pray” policy.
In reinstating the ban, a near-unanimous City Council overrode Mayor Bloomberg’s veto, kowtowed to religious interests, lost an estimated $12 million in revenue, and upheld the notion that prayerful activity is somehow of greater value than other pursuits.
But perhaps this church’s violations of city laws were just too brazen to ignore.
After all, as of April, the owners of the church owed about $20,000 for violations accrued over the past decade, according to city records.
Ayoola Soetan, who handles community affairs for the church, said he couldn’t comment for this article.
But in April, he told The Brooklyn Paper that Bowen’s complaints were simply not true. He also called one of his neighbors “obsessive.”
“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.”
The highest authority, of course, will be the court.
We ran into our Fort Greene pal, Rick Field of Rick’s Picks pickles, at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center this week and he gave us our second scoop in as many years: The company will unveil a new sublime treat, pickled asparagus, in August. Look for Field’s “Whup-Asp” in stores near you. Last year, we stunned the world with news that Field would soon introduce Smokra, his delicious smoked okra. …
Our other Fort Greene pal Marvin Barksdale is determined to attract more yellow cabs to downtown Brooklyn. Thanks to his detailed proposal at a transportation committee meeting, Community Board 2 will study his demand for a 24-hour yellow cab stand near the Atlantic Terminal mall. Good luck with that, Marvin! …
The Forte — Fort Greene’s first modern skyscraper — is looking for some retail tenants, but insiders aren’t letting on who exactly will fill the ground floor. Barry Fishbach, one of the brokers, would only say, “It’s an upscale luxury condo building, so we want a retailer that’s consistent with the image of the building.” …
Our own Rep. Yvette Clarke has snubbed Barack Obama and thrown her weight behind Sen. Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency, citing Hil’s commitment to “[resolving] high unemployment in our inner cities, job creation, reducing poverty, gun violence and increasing affordable housing.”
©2007 Community Newspaper Group
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