End days for Green Church - Demolition permit filed with the Department of Buildings

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The end is likely near for Bay Ridge’s beloved Green Church.

On September 2nd, an application for a demolition permit for the venerable structure at Fourth and Ovington Avenues was filed with the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB).

The application follows the removal of furnishings from inside the church as well as of the stained glass windows. The remains of approximately 200 church members, interred in a crypt on the church grounds, were exhumed and reburied elsewhere in April.

The applicant was the congregation of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, represented by the church President, John Donlon.

For now, however, the application is on hold. According to Carly Sullivan, a spokesperson for DOB, “It was placed on hold until the applicants demonstrate compliance with asbestos regulations. They have not been issued a permit.” The time frame for the granting of a demolition permit, Sullivan added, “Is going to depend on the applicant.”

The congregation is in contract to sell the property on which the church sits to developer Abe Betesh of Abeco Properties for $9.75 million. The sale is on hold pending the demolition of the church. Besides the sanctuary, the old Sunday school building and the parsonage, the end building in a row of attached townhouses, have also been proposed for demolition.

But, those who want to see the church saved aren’t giving up. “Until they put a veil over the stone and start taking the stone apart, I’m still going to be trying,” vowed City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has tried over the past couple of years to come up with a deal that would satisfy the church’s financial requirements and keep the sanctuary intact.

Indeed, said Gentile, talks were still going on when the demolition permit was requested. “It’s unfortunate that, even as we are negotiating, they are taking the building down,” he told this paper. “It just doesn’t smack of a good faith approach, though their position is always going to be, ‘We waited long enough; we’ve got to keep moving.’”

But, said Gentile, while the movement by the congregation to demolish the church is, from that perspective, comprehensible, given that their buyer is losing money every month the structure remains intact, “It’s still a little bit odd that they’re dismantling the place when they still have someone talking to developers.”

“Negotiations were over,” said the Reverend Robert Emerick, the church’s spiritual leader, when he was contacted for comment. “That was made clear.”

Asked about Gentile’s statement that negotiations were still underway, Emerick responded, “We had one offer brought to us of someone willing to build us a new, smaller church if we gave them the land along Fourth Avenue, but that wasn’t a serious offer. We had another offer from someone who wanted us to stop all activity for 90 days while he found out if he could get financing.

“That wasn’t a real possibility either, so there weren’t any real negotiations going on,” Emerick went on.

One thing that Emerick said that people focused on saving the sanctuary did not understand was that, “The congregation, which is the church, does not at all see its mission as maintaining the building. That has nothing to do with Christianity as far as we are concerned.”

The mourning process is already underway for the preservationists.

“It’s very frustrating,” noted Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy and a member of the Committee to Save the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church. “The church originally came to the community and the councilman for help, and people to the block came to us for help. We’ve been trying for years, but I feel they are just closed to everything.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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