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Church irked at new status

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In October, the city announced that it would be honoring the nearly century-old Grace Episcopal Church Memorial Hall in Jamaica with an official landmark status. But despite the accolades, the head of the church said he was unhappy with the decision, claiming it would hurt his declining congregation and the house of worship’s finances, so he would be fighting the decision.

The Rev. Darryl James, head of the church at 155-24 90th Ave., said he was in talks with members of the City Council to find a way to stop the designation from taking place.

“While it sounds good, the liabilities are greater to us than the assets,” he said of the landmarking.

James said the landmarked church and its nearby landmarked cemetery, which both date back to the 18th century and are separate properties from the hall, have had tougher restrictions´╗┐ when it comes to renovations or repairs because of their city landmark status.

Under the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s rules, landmarked buildings must get approval from the city for any changes so that they do not change the character of the buildings. James said that his church’s finances have not been as strong as in past times since the congregation has shrunk from 1,200 to 300 members in the last 15 years.

“We are in the business of saving souls ... and we can’t do that if we are hindered by the city,” he said.

The priest noted that the church’s main building needed to do repairs in 2002 and the LPC’s guidelines added an extra cost to the construction work. ´╗┐James said the city was only able to foot $7,000 of the bill while the church had to pay $30,000.

“This is really an undue hardship,” he said.

The Landmarks commission declined to comment about Grace Episcopal’s stance on the designation.

During the announcement for the landmarking of the 98-year-old hall, that is used for meetings, parties and other large gatherings, LPC chairman Robert Tienny, remarked about the multi-use space’s architectural features, such as its intersecting gables, tall chimneys and bay windows.

James said no one was able to raise these concerns during the public hearing process for the landmarking because Grace Episcopal members were not able to attend the hearings.

“It slipped through the cracks for us,” he said.

The priest said he would be lobbying Council members, including Councilmen James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), to try to convince them to overturn the LPC’s decision. The Council does not have to approve LPC designations, but it does have the power to overturn them.

“If it’s private property and it is opposed by the property owner, I will support the property owner in their decision,” Gennaro said.

There have been 20 designations that have been overturned by the Council in the LPC’s 45-year history, according to a spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 6:14 pm, October 10, 2011
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