Churches and the Price of Preservation

The demolition of a registered historic church in Brooklyn has underscored a debate over historic religious facilities between preservationists and congregations who struggle to pay the added costs of owning historic property.

"Daunted by the cost of repairing and maintaining the 1899 building, the congregation had sold it to a developer for $9.75 million. He plans to build a 70-unit apartment building, and the congregation will erect a smaller church on the site."

"The destruction went forward even though preservationists and the area's City Council representative had repeatedly implored the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to schedule a hearing on potential landmark status for the church, which was on the National and State Register of Historic Places."

"Houses of worship are among the most sensitive issues facing the landmarks commission. Mandating that a church be preserved can not only impose a heavy financial burden on a congregation, it also raises the specter of state interference with religious freedom. So the commission has been especially loath to take on churches or synagogues that don't want to be designated."

"'Nobody wants to be in a fight with a religious institution,' said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a preservation group."

"But many preservationists and at least one commission member argue that the landmarks commission has not been aggressive enough in protecting churches from the overheated real estate market of the last few years."

Full Story: Preserving the City: Church and State

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