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St. Savior’s teardown in limbo

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The city issued a permit to Sano Construction Corporation, a contractor hired by the site's owner, last week to demolish the church by hand or mechanical equipment, a city Buildings Department spokeswoman said.But the city temporarily halted demolition at the site last Thursday after a neighborhood resident complained that the site contained asbestos, a city Environmental Protection Department spokeswoman said. The agency said the site tested positive for the substance and ordered the property's developer to hire a licensed contractor to demolish the site, she said.The Juniper Park Civic Association and City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) rallied Friday morning to save the church, located at the corner of 57th Road and Rust Street in Maspeth, and said they would continue the fight as long as the building was still standing."This is an absolute disgrace that we are watching this building go down," Avella said. "When will the city come to the rescue of communities like Maspeth and listen to its citizens? The revolution has to start here and the real estate industry has to be told, 'You no longer have a say on what goes on in this city.'"Middle Village's All Faiths Cemetery recently agreed to house the 160-year-old church on its property if the civic could pay to transfer the building from its current Maspeth location. But demolition crews began removing windows and part of the property's roof on Feb. 27.A spokesman for state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) said the senator was working on securing $100,000 to transfer the church to the cemetery. Civic President Robert Holden said that state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) has secured $50,000 for the transfer.But Holden said that the group was relying on $1 million that City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) apparently put into the city Parks Department's budget.Holden alleged that Gallagher's money never existed."He's not working for the best interest of the community," Holden said. "This is an example of his duplicitous nature. He says one thing and does another."Gallagher said that he had placed $1 million in the Parks Department's 2008 fiscal budget, but that the property transfer would need to go through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process, for which the developer would not likely be willing to wait.A spokeswoman for the city Parks Department said that Gallagher had allocated $1 million to the agency in his 2008 fiscal budget for the acquisition of the church. But the acquisition would have required significant additional funding, so the city did not move forward with the project, she said. Gallagher has not reallocated the funds, she said."It's sad that the church is being torn down," he said. "Community Board 5 members supported, but the Juniper Park Civic Association opposed, a compromise that would have allowed reasonable development that would have saved the church. Sometimes you need to make a compromise to do what's right. The Juniper Park civic should take part of the blame for the destruction of St. Savior's. I wish cooler heads had prevailed."The civic filed a lawsuit against the developer in 2006 on the grounds that James Maurice's 1878 deed for the property limited its usage to church or community use. The State Supreme Court later overturned a restraining order preventing demolition at the site. The developer removed 185 trees, many of which were between 60 years old and 100 years old, from the property last summer and demolished the site's parsonage in December.Civic member Christina Wilkinson, who led the fight to save the church, said the group is not yet ready to throw in the towel."This developer has desecrated our land and our church," she said. "The world should see what has been allowed to happen here. As long as the land is underdeveloped, we'll continue to fight."Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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