Saturday, December 17, 2011

Church Fined for Removal of Windows

GLOVERSVILLE, NY - The Church of God of Prophesy, which owns the Bleecker Square Church, was given a conditional discharge and one year to pay $60,000 in fines after stained-glass windows and steeple clocks were removed in February from the 142-year-old church without the Historic Preservation Review Board's consent.

City Court Judge Vincent DeSantis ordered the church to replace the windows and maintain the building by removing graffiti and mowing the grounds, as well as prepare it for reuse and market it to a viable buyer.

The $60,000 is broken up into five $12,000 fines - one for each of the four facades of the building and one for the steeple, where the clocks were removed.

The order was close to the $14,000 maximum penalty for each fine.

The church faced fines that could range from $25 to $50 per day per violation since February, when Building Inspector D. Robert Robbins cited five violations

He said if the church fulfills the maintenance requirements, it may petition the court to have the fine reduced or eliminated, though that does not guarantee the court would grant that request.

DeSantis called the church, once the meeting place of the First Methodist Church a "major architectural feature" downtown and "forms a significant part of the architectural heritage of downtown."

He said he was "sympathetic to the church," but that he must act "in the city's best interest, and in the community's best interest."

The conditional discharge requires the church to comply with the directives of the Historic Preservation Review Board, which accepted a plan for replacement of the windows at its Dec. 1 meeting, aggressively maintain the structure and grounds and take positive steps to market the building to a purchaser in a position to maintain it.

If the windows are not replaced within a year, the church could face more violations.

"It's in the community's best interest that this building be maintained and adaptively revised to have that building be an active part of the synergy of downtown," DeSantis said.

The one-year conditional discharge means that the city is not able to enforce fines until Dec. 15, 2012.

Gloversville City Attorney Anthony Casale said he was "very satisfied" with DeSantis's sentencing, although he was disappointed the matter dragged on for nearly a year through multiple court adjournments.

During the sentencing hearing, he outlined the timeline of the matter, which had been going on since January when Robert Castiglione told him of word the church was planning on removing the windows.

At that point, Casale sent a letter to the church bishop in Albany, warning the church not to remove the windows without the Historic Board's approval.

Robert Meringolo, an antiques and art expert and dealer from Westerlo hired by the church to handle the project, said a miscommunication with his project partner, Joe Bailey, the owner of From Europe to You, resulted in the window and clock removal without approval, after an application had been submitted to the board.

Meringolo noted many of the church's historic windows were broken before they were removed, and the building had been the target of vandals.

Justin Gray of the Albany firm of Maynard, O'Connor, Smith & Catalinotto, represented the church in court and said not all of the windows had been sold. Casale said about $20,000 worth of material was sold from the church.

Gray also argued the bishop did not give approval to remove the windows and that the action was done by a third party; however Casale noted the church already pleaded guilty to the charges.

The Church of God of Prophecy Northeast Region, based in Albany, has owned the Bleecker Square Church since 2000, when it was purchased for $60,000, according to tax map data.

The structure's tax-exempt status was removed in 2009 because it no longer is used as a congregational meeting place, and the church has paid its taxes.

[By AMANDA WHISTLE, The Leader Herald]

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