At 2 p.m. today a judge halted the demolition of the 158-year-old Roman Catholic church on Avenue B and East 8th Street. Attorneys for parishioners argued in court that the demolition permit was invalid because the parish never had a properly convened board of trustees, and therefore there was never a proper vote to demo the church at the time the Archdiocese applied for the permit from the buildings department last February. Instead, the Archdiocese put together a board after the fact, which voted to approve the demolition on July 18.
It may be a technicality, but it was enough for Manhattan Supreme Court judge Barbara Kapnick to sign an order temporarily halting the destruction while the legalities are sorted out. Kapnick set the next court date at August 24, which means no more work for the next month at least.
Parishioners, who rushed back to the site to prevent a dump truck from carting away any more precious church remains, were jubilant. “I’m ecstatic!” exclaimed Edwin Torres (pictured at left below), who early this morning had appeared crushed when workers smashed all the stained-glass windows in the north side of the church. “It’s a great victory, even though they’ve already ruined so much. What’s inside is all aesthetic. We can put new benches and new windows up, but the building is still here.”
In another victory for the parishioners, the high-powered law firm Holland & Knight just agreed to represent them pro bono.
Archdiocese spokesperson Joe Zwilling said the parishioners’ claims were “completely meritless.”
“We’re confident that Judge Kapnick will see we’ve done everything properly and by the book,” Zwilling told the Voice.
Work at the site had already been stopped around 9 a.m. this morning after the Department of Buildings cited unsafe conditions. (Specifically, the DOB complained that workers were piling up too much “combustible” debris in back of the church, and ordered them to put up more scaffolding to shield passersby.)
Before that, a protester was arrested and charged with trespassing for scaling the roof of the church.