Thursday, July 3, 2008

Astoria church to be replaced with senior housing

Tearing down churches and replacing them with "senior housing" has been standard practice in Astoria for the past few years. The latest is HANAC's effort to raze the Presbyterian Church of Astoria at 31-30 33rd St. This article in a Queens weekly, makes it sound as though the neighborhood and elected officials can't wait to see the old place go. And with the price tag for the development, it's clear why.

Here's some background on the issue.


Anonymous said...

To the hypocritical church & its Reverend: Shame on you for planning to eradicate a place of worship, and especially a historicl site with fine, unmatchable craftsmanship. This is like experiencing a slow death. In addition to a church aligning with the name of its area, the larger picture is the neighborhood being flushed away for poor, overdeveloped, distasteful construction. The 2004 article says $750,000 to $1.5 million would be necessary for its revitalization. All that is needed is that sum from one rich individual or a few, or a few dedicated congregants. Build the senior center elsewhere. If that church goes down, this will be a grand faux pas that you, as well as future generations will regret when looking back. Take St. Brigid's Church which is now being saved. Have you learned anything?

And for the elected officials who endorse it, how are you serving the majority of your constituency? I see you forgot why you were elected. Also, it's pathetic how you choose to educate our children by deliberately destroying history. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!

Anonymous said...

"senior housing" ...yeah right.
When the owner get his stucco POS built he ask's 800K to 1+ Million $$ a unit.
He then crys "hardship" to the state and it it becomes 80%barricks for yuppies or 2: Over seas shits paying cash who will sublease to anybody as long as they dont live in it.

FancyPants-design said...

oh no.. wow..I used to live right by here..walked past that church almost everyday...

Anonymous said...

Good heavens, how many times can lightning strike in one day? again front and center....

Is this the same Maloney Baloney that is plopping down a massive out of scale nine story monster on a three story block? Isn't the rape of Dutch Kills enough for our community - now is Astoria next?

This project split the congregation and only with lobbying by the presbytery did it pass - by a vote or two. Of course the people on the block had no say in the matter.

All this for a church with a full time minister, with full benefits and housing, who serves a congregation of at best a handful of people.

Meanwhile, around the corner, another Presbyterian church is meeting in a synagogue. Their numbers are bursting at the seams.

I recall her getting funding for that otehr ugly building plopped in the middle of St Georges's Churchyard and resulted in the teardown of the 150 year old Astoria Institute, the community's name sake.

I guess she thinks working class people are too ignorant to appreciate history or to deserve development that would keep in character with their block.

I would like to see her try these stunts in the Manhattan portion of her district.

They would lynch her.

Anonymous said...

As the church was donated for religious purposes, this is probibally illegal.

Anonymous said...

How about the use of public money for a private or reiligous organization?

Who recieved kickbacks (whoops, sorry, 'commissions.'

Anonymous said...

CB 1 the communtiy board from hell!

Anonymous said...

The Sacred Sites program was contacted to try to work with the community to save our fabric.

They met privately with the church to give them the green light, a fact that was thrown in the face of the community time and time again.

They spend almost all their money on Manhattan projects, yet write grants as if they have active programs in the five boroughs.

Queens Crapper said...

I noticed there is a huge out of scale building next to the BQE going up. Is this "senior housing" by HANAC, too, therefore allowed?

Anonymous said...

To the credit of HDC, a seminar on church development was held a few blocks away at Trinity Lutheran in 2004. Alternatives to development was examined.

The event was packed.

Not a single member of the church showed up. Not a single community board member showed up. Not a single elected offical showed up. Not a single local newspaper reporter showed up.

Thus is community preservation in Queens.

Anonymous said...

Crapper, yes, a 15 story monster going up at a poorly designed exit ramp off the Triboro Bridge.

Just like the street with the Presbyterian Church, a speedway that feeds into Grand Central. A nice place to put someone's grandmother who likes to go out for a stroll, don't you think?

Will send you a HANAC flyer where they are putting together a community event. I guess they are starting to feel some heat from the community on their little 'projects'.

Lets post it and open that thead. This group needs to be brought more out into the light.

Anonymous said...

They spend almost all their money on Manhattan projects, yet write grants as if they have active programs in the five boroughs.

Now, now, NYLC did pay out of their pockets to demolish St. Saviour's.

Anonymous said...

The next time the lights goes out in Astoria, I hope the people in that picture will volunteer to run up and down nine flights of stairs to run food and ice to the trapped residents.

This is a senior warehouse whose purpose is to empty out rent controlled apartments for developers.

Study and study has shown that seniors are better if they can stay in their apartmetns and are not segregated into senior ghettos.

Anonymous said...

Wow! again.

What got into the water?

Anonymous said...

Wanna see what this will become in a few years? Hang around outside Madison-York on Woodhaven Blvd. Now that's class.

Anonymous said...

A group in the church tried to stop this and 20 signed it. When the vote came up, perhaps in violation of the polity of the chruch, members from the governing body, the Presbytery of NY attended the meeting and voiced their opinion that the orignal HANAC proposal should go forward. This was the deciding straw that swayed two votes to go in favor of the proposal.



Therese Fretwell Re: Presbyterian Church of Astoria
26 Federal Plaza
Suite 3541
New York, NY 10278-0068

Dear Ms. Fretwell,

We are writing to you in regard to the Presbyterian Church of Astoria. We have recently learned Church management appears to have deliberately misinformed our congregation in an effort to gain majority vote for the proposed HANAC development, potentially supported by H.U.D. (The background regarding that is detailed on the attached petition.)

Additionally, it is our understanding that in Church management’s eagerness to attain H.U.D. funding as quickly as possible, Session may have written you a letter last spring erroneously informing you that a majority of congregation members had voted in favor of developing the church when in fact the congregation had not yet met to vote.

To clarify whether H.U.D. was provided a false claim of that nature, we request copies of all of the letters and information provided by the Presbyterian Church of Astoria under the Freedom of Information Act.

On behalf of American taxpayers, we do not believe H.U.D. should fund a project that is the result of the actions detailed on the attached petition. Therefore, we urge you and your colleagues to dismiss consideration of funding the Presbyterian Church of Astoria’s proposed development.


[signed by two members]

Cc: Ms. Sloane D. Bullough, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation


September 12, 2006

Ms. Sloane D. Bullough
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Field Services Bureau
Peebles Island, P.O. Box 189
Waterford, N.Y. 12188-0189

Re: Senior Housing Project/Presbyterian Church of Astoria
33rd Street, Astoria, Queens County NY

Dear Ms. Bullough,

We are writing to you with regard to the proposed demolition of the Presbyterian Church of Astoria in Queens.

As congregation members, it has reached our attention that according to correspondence from Virginia L. Bartos, Ph.D., Historic Preservation Analyst at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the church is “still eligible for listing in the State and National Register of Historic Places.”

During the last 2-3 years, there has been much dissent in the church regarding whether or not to demolish the church. One influencing aspect the congregation has repeatedly been told by our minister, Reverend Donald Olinger, is that the church is not eligible for listing in the State and National Register of Historic Places.” It was therefore a shock when many of us learned that his statement was false.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you and your colleague Virginia L. Bartos that it appears our congregation, and New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, has been mislead in order that the church can succeed in its attempt to demolish the church.

We encourage you and your colleagues to dismiss the proposed architectural plans currently under review. The tactics Presbyterian Church of Astoria leaders have used do not merit approval and may be in serious question for a religious organization. The attached petition provides additional information regarding this issue.


[signed by two chuch members]

Cc: 60 Minutes: The New York Times; Wall Street Journal
Therese Fretwell, H.U.D.


this is the petition


We, the undersigned members and longtime attendees of Presbyterian Church of Astoria, protest the church sale and/or HANAC development as well as the manner in which the issue has been handled.

The estimate for repairing and restoring the church is overstated by over $1.5 million by the firm of Goshow Architects, who has been part of the development team from the start and was originally slated to make fees in excess of $500,000 from the first proposal. Goshow’s Building Condition Report of 1-3-06 includes padded and exaggerated costs (detailed in the attached summary). The firm’s participation poses a conflict of interest; one clearly intended to provide supposedly reputable support in favor of Presbyterian Church of Astoria’s development mission.

Reverend Olinger stated in a 2/4/04 interview with the Queens Gazette that the
Estimated repair costs are “between $750,000 and $1 million.” In a 2/5/04 interview in the Queens Chronicle he stated that the estimated cost of repairs is “$1.5 million.” According to the Goshow Architects report, only $350,000 is needed to bring the Sanctuary up to code (the A1 emergency/urgent repairs). The remainder can be undertaken over a longer period at lower costs than Goshow’s projected ones. Since 2004, we have repeatedly been given the erroneous $3 million estimate.

We believe it was deliberately overstated in order for our congregation to be “convinced” that no other options existed for saving the main sanctuary structure. This is not appropriate behavior by a Christian organization and does not merit being condoned by Presbytery.

Reverend Olinger has informed us many times that the New York office of Historic Preservation had visited the Church and reported that the church lacks sufficient historic merit to qualify as a State and National Historic Place. That, and the $3 million estimate, has been compelling reasons why some congregation members believe there is no hope for saving the sanctuary.

However, according to Virginia L. Bartos, PhD, Historical Preservation Program Analyst, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in a letter dated April 4, 2006:

Our office confirms and maintains that the church and its associated buildings are still eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In spite of visible deterioration, the buildings retain a significant amount of integrity in terms of historic materials, form, association, design and setting.

The Session assured the congregation that the multi-million dollar stained glass windows would be preserved with any development. The current proposal does not reflect this.

Reverend Olinger has also informed the congregation during development discussions that the market value of the three church properties is $4.2 million. But two outside parties, both professional real estate agents, have independently verified $6 million. The property is on three lots with market values of, respectively, $1.2 million (manse), $3,172.500 (sanctuary) and $1,669.800 (gym building). Either or both of the lots flanking the sanctuary are available to be sold or developed, and in the accompanying alternative proposal that we support, the church’s current basement tenant has offered to purchase one and possibly both.

By supporting the plans initiated and promoted by Reverend Olinger since the HANAC development issue first was introduced, Session has never reflected the views of the congregation. No plan other than HANAC has ever been presented to the congregation despite a split in the congregation votes from the beginning. Session, whose responsibility it is to assess and reflect the congregation’s point of view, has never responded to our concerns by researching any type of plan that would save and restore the Sanctuary. Instead, Session has put that responsibility on opposing congregation members and blamed them for not providing an alternate plan.

During our last church vote, the attached alternative proposal was introduced to the congregation. Before congregation had a chance to review it, the Presbytery’s head of the Board of Trustees informed the congregation that the Trustees would, in his view, “never” approve it. After the vote, he exclaimed to a congregation member sitting next to him, “I knew we would win.” In our opinion, his behavior concludes a process that has been biased from the beginning by the Presbytery of New York, including its Board of Trustees.

We request Presbytery’s permission to pursue the attached development option, which is to sell the manse to our current rental tenant Adventureland Day Care at the market value of $1 million+, immediately invest the $350,000 necessary to bring the Sanctuary up to code, and either sell or develop the third property (which Adventureland has also expressed an interest in purchasing.)

The current plan to sell the $6 million property for $2-$4 million and allow the present church leadership and its small group of supporters to rent space and receive $250,000 for its first two years of operation, then keep the remainder of the profits to “minister to the community,” is supported by too small a group of congregation members to make it viable, especially since none of us will attend Presbyterian Church of Astoria if it is sold or developed by HANAC. It does not make sense to maintain a salaried pastor with no church and scant members.

The current website states, "But as difficult as it was, it was also a time of building hope and a vision of a "church without walls" where loving God and loving neighbor were the focus and priority of our ministry." The congregation as a whole, as well as those signed below, never participated in nor approved a decision for a "church without walls."

We are committed to saving and restoring the Presbyterian Church of Astoria sanctuary, and to rebuilding our congregation, including ensuring the return of the many members who have stopped attending during the HANAC discussions.

(Signatures attached.)


Fred said...

Where were Peter "Favorite Son" Vallone, George "Oh No" Onorato and Michael "El Greco" Gianaris while this was happening???

Anonymous said...

Blaming Con Ed?

Anonymous said...

To all of the name-calling criticizing nay-sayers who are posting such negative, hateful comments on this blog--specifically to "Anonymous" who stated, "To the hypocritical church & its Reverend: Sheme on you...":

Who are YOU calling a hypocrite? Who are ANY of you idiots to judge or play Monday Morning Quarterback??

Where were ANY of you when this church was struggling to survive? Did any of you even KNOW about it, or its situation? You are all pretty quick to judge and criticize, but were YOU there to support this church in its worst days?? It is YOU, the community that let this church die, and forced it into this situation--YOU are to blame. So before you make any more negative, critical, hateful remarks, know that YOUR lack of action, and lack of support are one of the primary reasons for the demise of this great structure! You ought to be ashamed for passing judgment in such a hateful way, for a situation that you know NOTHING about.


Anonymous said...

Fuck all of these local politicians. Fuck them all. They all will burn in hell for destroying New York.

Fuck them all.

Rich said...

I was a member of the church back in the 50s and 60s. Back then we had over 1000 members. Now adays they are lucky to get about 20. The building is in bad shape from the outside, I don't know what the inside is like. Supposedly they would need between 1 and 3 million to get it back in shape. I would love to see that but it has no congregation, who is going to spend the money if there is no one to use it?
The church membership started to drop like a stone in the 70's when the Presbyterian Church at large became very liberal, The Minister that had been there retired and the new ones they could get were all into the liberal guilt thing. This with an immigrant population of hardworking middle class people. Also because many people moved out of the area to buy homes or retire.
I was back there today 8/2/2009 and it was sad to see. Senior housing - a stop gap. It is a shame that the building will be lost though, it was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

The estimate was a self surving one provided by the minister - the amount grew from a few thousand by leaps and bounds to the millions in a few short years.

A counter proposal by members of the congregation (and reviewed by real estate developers) suggested a smaller project that would keep the church.

Members of presbytery supposedly torpedoed it. The vote was close - only a few people could have made it happen.

Other suggestions were made. A few people closed their ears to them. Now this pricelss structure will be destroyed.

Liberalism is a problem, but a full time minister with pension, rent free parsonage, an organist to serve a congreation of 20 doomed the place.

Their chances of survival after this project are grim at best. The presbytey in NY is looking at reducing from 101 chruches to a handful.

This is a test case. Dozens of simliar projects around the city will now happen.

Around the corner, a Jewish synagogue became a Baptist Church.

Now a block of 2 and 3 story homes will have a dozen stories looming over them.

Anonymous said...

I am saddened to see this. I was born and raised in Astoria. This church is where I was baptized and confirmed. I was a member till I married and moved to Brooklyn. I spent many years (1956 to 1979) with this church. We had many members back then. I remember the Penny Festivals, talent shows, Christmas Pagents, etc. We had a large Sunday School. I went to Girl Scouts there also. We marched on Brooklyn Queens Day, Went on church picnics at Bear Mountain. I was a Sunday School teacher, and a Deacon. I had many fond memories growing up in this church.

History is the mainstay of our existence. It hurts me deeply that my past is never going to be there again. I loved coming back to Astoria and taking a tour of my roots.

I notice that in today's age, ministers do not have the love for the churches they serve. They do not have the deep love for the neighborhood or the congregation they serve. They never grew up in the church that I grew up in. They are disconnected from the plight that "MY" church has and continues to go through. This church as all churches do, have deep meaning to them, but ministers come and go and these modern day ministers don't feel or understand what as they see as "just a building". But Astoria Presbyterian Church is more than a building, a piece of real estate. It has a rich history in the community.

I resent the fact that my roots of my past are being ripped apart. To just "save the columns of the churh" is an insult to the beauty and history of this church.

Somehow there has to be a way of preserving this church. Presbytery as do the modern ministers of our time, have absolutely no connection or love for our churches. Its a shame not to preserve our Presbyterian churches in our urban cities. That is a crime. By the time Presbytery and all ministers realize the mistake they are making, most of our great churches will be gone!

My heart is heavy as if I've lost a family member. Astoria Presbyterian Church as been on my mind since I've read all the articles.

I hope, if its not too late with my comment to continue to try to save this church. I commend the congregation for fighting to keep this church. To them I give them my blessing to continue....DON'T GIVE UP! I am with you in my heart and in spirit!

Someone with a long memory said...

Speaking as a 13th generation Presbyterian, take my advice:

Its not giving up, but moving on.

We tried, but its rocks agains tanks.

The press in need of adverstising from real estate, the do-nothing presytery that needs to be paid, the politicans elected to serve us that use our taxes to pay off campaign debts rather than help neighborhoods, the broader community of absentee landlords intent on sucking what they can, and local transients from some widespace in the road out in the sticks couldn't care less about this.

But the focus of our ire is the preservation community in NYC that not only provided those of us that tried to save the building no help, but actually worked with the developers to destroy it.

Something that will come back to haunt those bastards.

This blog is the first step. There will be others and we can assure you that they will howl when we are done with them.