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Demo permit for Green Church - Venerable house of worship faces destruction

It’s end times for the Green Church.

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) on September 19th issued a demolition permit for the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, at Fourth and Ovington Avenues, meaning that the beloved 109-year-old community landmark will likely start coming down very soon.

The congregation – which is in contract to sell the property for $9.75 million to developer Abe Betesh, of Abeco Realty -- had applied for the permit at the beginning of September; it was on hold for about two weeks while issues related to asbestos removal were resolved. According to the terms of the contract, the congregation must proceed with the demolition before the sale can take place.

Those who fought to save the venerable structure expressed disappointment and sadness at the development. “Everyone’s upset,” noted preservationist Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy and a member of the Committee to Save the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, which had worked to preserve the building.

“It’s horrible,” Hofmo went on. “And, it’s only the beginning. The synagogue (Bay Ridge Jewish Center) is looking for a place to worship while they are doing demolition, and we have the Walbeck’s site sitting there, and nothing is being done.

“I want to see more people coming forward,” Hofmo went on. “I think there are other solutions. I think people should think about the options. These are large pieces of property and there’s so much beauty. This is not the best we can do.”

Kathy Walker, the co-chairperson of the committee, concurred. “I feel horrible,” she told this paper. “It’s extremely unfortunate. It could have been different, but it’s not. The church didn’t want to bend, so I guess the bulldozers might be rolling in any day.”

The exact date of the demolition is up to the company that will be doing it, said the Reverend Robert Emerick, the congregation’s spiritual leader. Pretty much everything that is being saved has been removed from the building, he said.

Indeed, he stressed, “We are moving forward with our plans. The congregation has already moved on. They are looking to the future, not the past. It would have been nice for the congregation to have had a normal process of moving on, but instead they have been demeaned and disregarded, and their reputations have been attacked by a small group of people blind to objective reality. People act like they own this church. They don’t.”

Emerick also objected to the concern expressed by area residents over saving the time capsule that is believed to be in the building’s cornerstone.

“This is none of their business,” Emerick went on. “This is the congregation’s business. The time capsule belongs to the congregation. If it’s there, it’s our time capsule, and we’ll choose to do with it as we choose. We’re not nasty, irresponsible people. We will deal with it.”

The congregation announced their intention of selling the church property to a developer approximately three years ago, citing the deteriorating condition of the edifice’s facing stone.

There were ongoing efforts to find a “win-win” solution that would preserve the sanctuary, while providing the congregation with a funding stream to support their mission. In particular, City Councilmember Vincent Gentile brokered three separate possible deals; two of these were flatly rejected by the church, while the third did not move forward.

In preparation for the sale, the remains of approximately 200 church members, interred in a crypt on the church grounds, were exhumed and reburied elsewhere in April.

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.

The sanctuary was placed on the State and national Registers of Historic Places in 1999 at the request of the congregation, which earlier had turned to the community to help raise money to restore the clock tower. The intersection was named Bay Ridge United Methodist Church Corner a few years back, also at the congregation’s request.

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