February 14, 2008

Rally to Save Bay Ridge Methodist Church this Saturday at 10am

I've been derelict in my duties. I've not written much about the impending demise of the Bay Ridge Methodist Church. It has been far too depressing to write about.

This lovely building, built of green stone from Pennsylvania, has stood at the corner of Fourth and Ovington since 1899. That's 16 years before my house on 68th Street was built, in 1915. The same year the Fourth Avenue Local subway was punched out as far as Bay Ridge Avenue. ( 77th Street station opened in April 1916)

I'd love to see a photo of this church when it was new, or even 10-20 years old. None of the nearby apartment houses on Fourth or Ovington were up yet. Even the limestone buildings on the south side of Ovington between Third and Fourth weren't built until 1910. ( Many of these limestone houses were vandalized by their owners not so long ago, who ripped out the front gardens to put up legal or illegal parking spaces when no one was looking )

When the Bay Ridge Methodist Church was built 1n 1899, Bay Ridge had working farms. Oh yes it did. There were farms on and nearby to 68th Street as recently as 1915 ( "Aunt Maude", who lived her life on 68th Street, told us this in the 1960s. And if there were farms on 68th Street, there were surely small farms, for cabbages and other crops, only two blocks away on Ovington Avenue.

This would have been the tallest building in the area when it was built, towering over the wooden buildings, farm shacks and whatever else was in the rural, soon to be suburban, soon to be urban area of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, back in 1899. Must have been one beautiful sight.

I walked past this church for six years on the way to elementary school at Our Lady of Angels. At night, I remember hearing the bells of Bay Ridge Methodist Church. These lovely bells, like those of Our Lady of Angels have been gone for some time now. I don't know or understand why. The loss of the church bells, in Bay Ridge, America, and the world, are indicative of a western world that sees it's Christianity, it's confidence and all of it's love of beauty fade, a bit more every day, over the past fifty years.

The Bay Ridge and Brooklyn blogs have done a good job discussing this issue. But for my ten cents, some of the best work has been done by a former Bay Ridge resident who does not forget --Kevin Walsh of NYC blog treasure
Forgotten NY<. He has some commentary and some lovely photos of the church and environs here

And he has devoted a page of his large website to a demonstration to save the church that will take place this Saturday, March 16 at 10am

Here, I reprint the last link in its entirety. I didn't ask for permission, because I know that its not necessary. I expect to be there, and hope to see you also.



On Saturday, February 16th, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., the Committee will hold a rally at the Green Church. We hope to circle the entire block at Ovington/Fourth/72nd/3rd.

Please join us on the corner of 4th and Ovington at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 16th.

If you live on the block and you support our cause, we urge you, if you cannot join us on the street, to put up a sign in your front window to show solidarity.

With us at the rally on the 16th will be many of the Church's neighbors on the block, including David and Dorcas Kimball, who own the limestone row house next to the parsonage.

Because of the way that row houses are constructed, with the end walls buttressing the entire row, the Kimballs fear that when the parsonage, which they share a common wall with, is demolished, the outer wall of their house will be damaged, destabilizing the structure and forcing them and Dorcas' elderly mother and father out of their home.

An application for leave to sell the Church property was filed on behalf of the congregation by the law firm of Donovan and Gianuzzi, LLP on or about January 3rd, 2008 in Index No. 43305/07. This appears to have been a re-filing of the application filed in November, 2007.

No one other than the applicant was notified of the hearing date six days later on January 9th or was permitted to appear or be heard.

Judge Larry Martin's ex parte order grants permission to sell the Church property, including Lot 43 (the limestone row house) and Lot 48 (the Church) to "362 Ovington, L.L.C.", pursuant to a purchase and sale agreement singed by John Donlon and Abe Betesh on March 29, 2007.

Certified letters sent by the Committee to the Clerk of the Kings County Supreme Court and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees requesting notice of the hearing on the application were ignored. Neither the Committee nor the Attorney General have any standing to appear.
The following information was gleaned from Judge Martin's order:

The purchase price is $9,750,000.00.

After the brokers and attorneys are paid, the net proceeds of the sale will be spent on the construction of a new church and an "endowment".

The income from the "endowment" will be spent as follows: on "annual budget", "enhancing local services to the elderly and children", "supporting ecumenical and interfaith ministries in Brooklyn", "supporting global ministries", and supporting the "United Methodist Church (UMC) in New York City".

The parsonage (the limestone row house) will be demolished to build the new church and the back yard of the parsonage will become a parking lot. (There is no money for a new parsonage in the order).

Within days after the order was signed, "Yellow Hooker" columnist Matthew Lysiak touted the congregation's victory over local preservationists in a Daily News article in which Pastor Emerick invites the Bay Ridge community to attend a "demolition party" at the Church this spring and take home a piece of the Church's Serpentine stone facade as a souvenir.

The same week, Pastor Emerick, with three congregation members, picketed Councilmember Vincent Gentile's office carrying signs accusing Gentile of trying to "hurt" the congregation by supporting the efforts of local preservationists to landmark the Church.

Abe Betesh's representatives have reportedly stated to neighbors that the Church will be demolished in March.
The following information was gleaned from the petition:

The petitioner (a corporation referred to as the "Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, Inc.") maintains a Methodist “house of worship” in Kings County and engages in various kindred “religious, educational, civic and social activities”.

The petitioner's “principal mission” is to: “further its religious goals and activities”, “administer to the needs of its parishioners and the community at large”, and “carry on the mission of Jesus Christ by working toward the kingdom of God on earth”.

The petitioner seeks permission to sell all of its real property at 362-364 Ovington Avenue (7002 4th Avenue), Section 18, Block 5891, Lots 43 and 48 on the Kings County Tax Map.

A “reserved” 56’ X 90’ “footprint” of land within the property where a “newly-designed state-of-the-art church building”, other “church-related facilities” and a 56’ X 25’ parking lot will be constructed will be either a 200-year ground lease or a perpetual easement. The congregation will retain no ownership interest.

The purchase price, after closing costs, brokers' and attorneys' fees are deducted, will be used to “construct and operate” the new church and “promote the mission of Jesus Christ”.

Exclusive selling agent Massey-Knakal marketed the property for a year before the purchase-and-sale contract was signed on March 29, 2007, which would mean that M-K was marketing the property while the group that later formed the Committee to Save the Green Church was negotiating in good faith with the trustees to save the Church building. (Perhaps this explains why M-K reportedly accompanied Pastor Emerick and the trustees to those negotiations.)

The sale will “promote the petitioner's mission and the mission of Jesus Christ” by keeping the congregation in Bay Ridge for the foreseeable future rather than pouring its “limited financial resources” into the “extraordinary cost of repairing and maintaining its rapidly-deteriorating 108-year-old existing church” (described as in “very poor condition” and in need of "substantial ‘gut’ renovations”).

Selling its property will provide the congregation with the “structural and financial permanence and stability” essential to its “survival and preservation”.

On March 29th, 2007, at a special meeting of the “Charge Conference”, the petitioner resolved, by a majority of those voting, to sell the Church property.

On the same date, March 29, 2007, John Donlon, chairman of the board of trustees, executed the purchase and sale agreement with buyer Abe Betesh.

On June 11, 2007, the petitioner, at a meeting of the “Church Conference”, "unanimously" passed a resolution authorizing the sale of the property pursuant to the purchase and sale agreement. Pastor Emerick consented in writing to the proposed sale on that same date.

On October 8, 2007, the board of trustees (Walter Crowe, Ernie Colvin, Robina Colvin, Marjorie Sullivan, Frank Breuer, John Donlon, Scott Cummings, Lois Habenicht, and Thomas McGivern) at a "duly-noticed special meeting" with "2/3 of the board present and voting", resolved to carry out the resolutions of the Charge Conference and the Church Conference.

On October 17, 2007, Rev. Gunshik Shim, Superintendent of the Long Island West District of the New York Conference, consented in writing to the proposed sale.

The following is gleaned from the purchase and sale agreement:

The down-payment is $500,000.00, payable upon the receipt of the necessary “government approvals”.

Lobbyist James Capalino was jointly hired by the buyer and seller as a condition of the purchase and sale agreement to act as “government relations consultant” to expedite the demolition permit for the Church for a minimm fee of $10,000.00.

It is the responsibility of the congregation to demolish the Church (which gives new meaning to Pastor Emerick’s invitation to the Bay Ridge community to come and help the congregation tear down it down.)

Background of the Controversy:

The Committee to Save the Green Church was formed in the Spring of 2007 as the successor to an effort by local preservationists dating back to 2005 to save the Church building at the corner of Ovington and Fourth Avenues in Bay Ridge, so-called because of its ashlar facade of rare Serpentine stone.

The Green Church, a Bay Ridge landmark since 1899, is a uniquely American architectural treasure, designed by eminent 19th Century American architect George W. Kramer in a transitional late Victorian/Romanesque Revival style -- on the cusp of the American Arts and Crafts movement.

The Church has been listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places since 1999, through an application process -- which the congregation ironically initiated -- that included a structural analysis of the Church. Despite its damaged Serpentine facade, the Church is of sound brick construction.

Next to the Church facing 4th Avenue is a specially-constructed vault, marked by a stone, containing the remains of 211 early congregants of the Methodist Episcopal Church of New Utrecht, the first Methodist Episcopal congregation in Brooklyn, founded in 1794. (In 1942, the Church was re-named "Bay Ridge United Methodist"). The remains were disinterred in 1901 from the former Methodist Cemetery on 6th Avenue and reinterred next to the Green Church.

The dwindling UMC congregation (reportedly numbering fewer than 20, mostly elderly, people) approved a plan to sell the Church property at some point between 2004 and 2007.

In an effort to avoid the demolition of the Church, the local group that later formed the Committee worked with Councilmember Vincent Gentile for more than two years, beginning in 2005, to negotiate a compromise with the congregation that would spare the Church building.

During this time, the group and Gentile partnered with the Con Edison Renaissance Project to propose an alternative development plan that would have spared the Church building, would have left the property in the hands of the congregation, and would have netted over $300,000 in annual income while providing Bay Ridge with much-needed senior housing.

The congregation rejected the proposal, making it clear that any proposal that involved the congregation maintaining the Church would be similarly rejected.

Sometime between 2006 and 2007, the congregation listed the Church property for sale with realtor Massey-Knakal. The asking price, at the height of the real estate bubble, was $12.5 million. The realtor's Website reported in the spring of 2007 that the property was in contract. It was initially rumored that the buyer was Basile Builders (demolisher of the so-called "74th Street Victorians"), but that was never confirmed.

Last fall, a property that matched the description of the Church was posted on Craig's List at the asking price of $11.5 million. Rumors again circulated that the property was in contract -- to Abe Betesh, of Abeco Management, a Brooklyn developer accused by an irate Harlem tenant group in 2007 of being a "slumlord" with a long list of Housing Code violations, and rumored to possibly be the subject of similar complaints by elderly low-income tenants in Bushwick.

Betesh confirmed to media sources last fall that he was in contract to buy the property.

Betesh's plan is to level the entire corner, including the Church building, the adjoining brick Sunday school (Heartshare Human Services will be evicted) and the adjoining limestone row house (which will no longer serve as a parsonage) -- and cover the corner at Ovington and Fourth with a 7-story 50-condo development.

The congregation is reportedly selling Church's stained glass windows, surveyors have been seen on the property, day-glo cones and plastic pennants now mark the vault, workmen have taken boring samples from the lot, and the congregation has reportedly been shown plans for the new building that will replace the demolished limestone row house.

Only local landmark protection can save a historic building in New York City from demolition. The State and National Registers of Historic Places offer no protection against a hostile owner.

Efforts by local preservationists to calendar a request for evaluation ("RFE") with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission ("LPC") began years before the Church property was listed for sale, but in early 2007, after the congregation rejected the Con Edison proposal, the newly-formed Committee to Save the Green Church filed a new RFE with the LPC on behalf of the Church.

For a year now, LPC Chairman Robert Tierney has declined to calendar the RFE for hearing by the full Commission, despite the dedicated and persistent efforts of the Bay Ridge community: 1,200 letters, hundreds of signatures on petitions, the pleas of the Committee, and the pleas of Councilmember Gentile and State Representative Janele Hyer-Spencer, have been ignored.

If Chairman Tierney would do no more than calendar the RFE for hearing by the full Commission, that would prevent the demolition of the Church, pending the date of the hearing on the RFE.

Because the Church is a New York not-for-profit religious corporation, a court order from a Kings County Supreme Court judge is required to finalize the sale, but it turns out that the hearing on the application for leave to sell is ex parte: the UMC is one of a handful of denominations the State legislature has made exempt from the requirement of notice to the New York State Attorney General -- or to any interested party -- when applying for an order for leave to sell.

Therefore, neither the Attorney General nor the Committee were permitted to review the application or appear at the hearing.

For further information about the Committee and its activities, including the date of the next meeting, please contact the Committee at the following address:

P.O.Box 57
6904 Colonial Road
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11209


Mark said...

A great and informative post, Phantom.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say one thing,where were all these people back in 1899. If there were People like that back than, Bay Ridge would still be farm land.

Anonymous said...

I think what they are doing is meaningful and great. However, as a resident on 72nd and 4th, its very annoying to have to hear the drum beat and yelling for two hours straight. I just want a relaxing Saturday afternoon after a really stressful week. What happened to peaceful and quiet demonstrations? Sigh. The beat goes on. *bangs head on wall*

Anonymous said...

If the person above me is pissed at a two hour rally to save a church- i hope you suffer the worse when they are knocking down the place for month you sacreligious shithead