‘Green’ church is coming down; blame game continues

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The wrecking ball is about to swing, but the finger pointing over the coming demolition of Fourth Avenue’s beloved “Green Church” is already in full motion.

This week, Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) unveiled the results of his much-ballyhooed hunt for new developers that, he claims, would have preserved the emerald-colored Bay Ridge United Methodist Church — but church officials said the plans weren’t good enough.

“None of the alternative offers came anywhere close to meeting the church’s needs or the congregation’s needs,” said the church’s pastor, Robert Emerick, who has long sought to demolish the 109-year-old house of worship, sell its land to a developer, and reopen a smaller, easier-to-maintain church building.

But Gentile still says that any one of this three plans could have succeeded:

• A Gentile-assisted proposal from Con Edison called for preserving the church and surrounding it with affordable housing for seniors. This plan would have generated about $300,000 per year the congregation — the annual cost of maintaining the decaying building.

But the church shot down the plan in 2007.

“The main problem was that it assumed that the congregation would have put the proceeds into saving the building — and we’ve tried to make it clear that we don’t see Christianity that way,” Emerick told The Brooklyn Paper. “We don’t think the congregation’s purpose is to keep plowing money into a building.”

• An Omni New York LLC proposal that would have paid the congregation $9.75 million — the same price that current developer Abe Betesh will pay when the building is demolished — to build state or federally financed affordable housing for seniors. While the developers awaited the difficult-to-secure public dollars, they would give the church a $250,000 stipend, but church officials said it wasn’t worth interrupting the long-planned demolition.

“We would have been required to put everything on hold while they looked for financing, and they would have had no risk whatsoever,” said Emerick. “It would have been a matter of us putting aside all of the plans that we have looked into for three years.”

• An Engel Burman Group proposal would have leased the land from the congregation, preserved the verdant fa├žade and surrounded it with senior residences, and constructed the congregation a $3.5-million church along Ovington Avenue.

Gentile thinks this plan is still on the table, but Emerick said it had already been dismissed.

Despite his failure to get the congregation to reconsider tearing down the limestone landmark, Gentile heralded the preservation efforts as “valiant.”

“I’m disappointed that we have not been able to reach a win-win resolution,” Gentile said.

With Gentile’s plans off the drawing board and with a demolition permit awaiting review from the Department of Buildings, preservationists remain crushed.

“I just feel so frustrated,” said Victoria Hofmo, a member of the Committee to Save the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church. “I can’t see why none of these things will work. Why people can’t be more flexible?”

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Reader Feedback

bob from bayridge says:
the church is an eye sore, you had bums hanging out in the parking lot, mexicas running wild and throw parties in one of the two properties on the church's land. good riddens to the church and to victoria hofmo's loud annoying mouth.
Sept. 20, 2008, 10:28 am
quizno from Bay Ridge says:
I'm not a member of the preserv. group, and not a member of this church, and not even a Methodist (though I'm a lifelong churchgoer elsewhere).
And I don't understand why the church should be expected:
- to put more money into a building they don't want, or
- to put its plans on hold and carry all the risk (since extensive time in limbo, w/o space, can be damaging to any congregation), or
- to change its original building plan, just so that others can look at the "verdant fa
Sept. 21, 2008, 7:05 am
quizno from Bay Ridge says:
(more) "verdant facade" of a building that they previously had little to do with.
These people have a right to do what's best for their people and mission. And I'll bet you that the hands-down majority of NYC houses of worship are on their side.
Sept. 21, 2008, 7:12 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
I think that as the owners of a historically significant building the church had some obligations that they did not live up to. the building can sold with a requirment that it not be torn down. The building clearly has a lot of value and could have been better dealt with in this way.
I am shocked that the methodist church is so detached fromt he wishes of the community it's located in, and has such a disregard for history.
I do not believe that the church has to remain in the current building, by any means, but they do have duty to protect history and community and not just tear it down.
Furthermore, the methodist church has more than one branch, and the central organization of Methodist Churches in New York or perhaps in the whole U.S. certainly had the funds to keep the building suitably usable.
Sept. 22, 2008, 9:16 am
Norm from bay ridge says:

Why do you insist on rewriting history in a way that makes the congregation look like the wrongdoers here?

The building cannot be sold with a requirement it not be torn down, not in this economy anyway.

The congregations responsibility is to the mission, not the structure. Preservationists concern themselves with landscape and structures etc... and good preservationists do it through a codified system of laws, without injuring other parties. This neighborhood's made it abundantly clear at the end of the day they don't care enough about landmarking or preservation to do the heavy lifting. Look at yourself before you start telling other people what they should or should not do.
Sept. 22, 2008, 11:09 am
pragmat from Bay Ridge says:
"Michael" [above] is clueless - about churches in general - and should stop picking on these Methodists.

#1, religious groups have a duty to do what's best for their particular ministry. That's why 99% of NYC churches AVOID NYC Landmark status (which limits what they can do with/to a building). They don't want The Building to come before the congregation's needs.
[In this case: After the sale was announced, the preservation group tried -- against this place's wishes - to have the church NYC-Landmarked; but NYC Landmarks refused to do so. And many Bay Ridge churches can claim some significance, or were designed by prominent architects. Michael might ask them why THEY haven't sought NYC Landmark status.]

#2, national religious denominations do NOT just blithely fork over $ for old local buildings. They have the same priorities that local churches and governing bodies do.

#3, churches aren't just stage props. Even if the neighbors like its looks: sometimes a building no longer works for a church's purposes, and isn't worth retrofitting.
This place moved itself (and its burials) at leasat twice before moving to Bay Ridge ... so this church's history/custom include accommodating to change.

So Michael - don't rewrite history, law, or churches' customs and operations just to suit your personal wishes.
Sept. 22, 2008, 2:58 pm

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