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Trinity Lutheran to lease 37th St. lot for co-op

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Trinity Lutheran Church is in talks with a Long Island developer to build an eight-story, 30-unit co-op in the parking lot across the street from the house of worship at 31-19 37th St. "This is a very, very sweet spot in the city," said Trinity Pastor Lawrence Recla. "It is my belief that this provides a win for everyone (with) more housing and financial security for the parish."The 115-year-old parish is drafting a lease agreement with the Cedar Lane Development Corp. that would net the church $120,000 annually and a large percentage of the profits for each co-op sale in the first six years. Parish members and other Lutherans have dibs on the first offering at 20 to 25 percent below market rates. After six months, the remaining co-ops would be sold at full market value with the parish earning 85 percent of the profits during the first year of sale.The 99-year-lease would have Trinity's percentage of the profits declining by 10 percent each year until the seventh year of sale, when it would earn 5 percent of each sale until the end of the agreement.The lease would also guarantee free housing in the co-op for the church pastor."The church would be ensured financial stability," Recla said.Like many parishes around the city, Trinity Lutheran has suffered from rising costs and declining membership that has sapped church coffers. A lack of funds forced it to cut Sunday school in the late 1990s and the 77-year-old church building is in need of about $2 million repairs, which the 117-member congregation just cannot support, Recla said. It faces $450,000 in roof work, $50,000 in repairs to two concrete spires on 31st Avenue where water is leaking into the stairwell, a $20,000 overhaul to the church organ and other upgrades to the gutters, bathrooms and kitchen.Faced with a similar problem of dwindling attendance, St. George's Episcopal Church on 12th Street has decided to raze its next-door parish house and lease the property for a 55-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors. The move has angered several local residents and the Greater Astoria Historical Society. "People don't like to see church property developed," said George Delis, district manager of Community Board 1. "I've gotten complaints about that."He said he understands why churches would look to developing to off-set costs. Religious institutions are in trouble, he said, noting that the Diocese of Brooklyn recently decided to shutter nine financially strapped Queens schools. The district manager has met with another house of worship with declining membership, the Presbyterian Church of Astoria on 33rd Street, to discuss building on church land. "It's a matter of survival," Delis said. In January, the Trinity Lutheran congregation voted 43-4 in favor of pursuing development plans with Cedar Lane, which would fund the project and oversee its construction.Initial renderings from Long Island City-based Draskovic Mendillo Architects show a 74-foot- high building with 31 parking spaces on the 13,300-square-foot parking lot. Fourteen parking spaces would be above ground, and 17 would be underground in a garage.The first floor would comprise two 1,500-square-foot medical offices and initial plans call for eight one-bedroom, 14 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom co-ops. They would range in size from 570 to 1,000 square feet.Recla said it was too early to say how much they would cost. The church attorney was in the process of drafting a letter of intent with Cedar Lane. After it is inked, the developer will begin seeking state and city approval, which should take between four and five months. Recla said construction would take a year and shovels would go into the ground in early fall at the soonest."We're proceeding under the assumption that this is likely to occur," the pastor said.But not everyone is happy with the plans. Congregation member Miriam Weiss said she voted against the venture because she thinks the church should get community input before moving forward."I was one of four no votes," Weiss said. "When I realized it was going to be eight stories, I just said this is too tall for Astoria."The property has residential zoning that permits buildings of up to 12 stories high. Weiss said she would prefer a six-story structure that better matches the character of the surrounding buildings."The attitude of the church council was: 'It is our land and we can do what we want with it,'" Weiss said. "In my opinion, that's not Christian - that's the spirit of American market individualism."Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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