Ground Zero Mosque Cleared by Unanimous Vote From Landmarks Commission
By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — The Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the way for a proposed Ground Zero mosque and community center with a unanimous decision not to landmark a building designated for the project.
The commission's 9-0 vote allows for the demolition of the building 45-47 Park Place to make way for the 13-story project, called Park51. The mosque plan faces no additional approval hurdles and can move forward as soon as its backers come up with the estimated $100 million needed to finance the project.
Opponents of Park51 called on the city to landmark 45-47 Park Place as a way of stopping the mosque. Now, they plan to file a lawsuit to protect the building.
Shortly after the commission voted, Mayor Michael Bloomberg headed to Governors Island to praise the Commission's decision and passionately restate his view that any roadblock to building the mosque stands in the way of religious freedom, tolerance and New York's ideals.
"To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists," he said.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else."
The Landmarks commissioners, appointed by Bloomberg, said the 152-year-old Park Place building was not worth preserving because the architect is unknown and many similar cast-iron buildings are already protected in TriBeCa’s historic districts.
“It does not really stand out,” said Frederick Bland, a commissioner.
Bland and others added that they were also swayed by the fact that local preservation groups did not fight to save the building.
“The actions, or inactions, of these watchdogs of historic resources spoke loudly to me,” Bland said.
LPC Chairman Bob Tierney and other commissioners also noted that Community Board 1 and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents lower Manhattan, did not think the building ought to be protected.
The Park Place building was heavily damaged on 9/11 when the landing gear of one of the jets crashed through the roof, but the commissioners said many other buildings were harmed in the attacks, and they shouldn't all be protected.
“It’s akin to the guardrail on the highway where a fatality occurred,” said Christopher Moore, a commissioner, who grew emotional while discussing his memories of 9/11. “The guardrail is not preserved.”
The several dozen activists who attended Tuesday’s meeting in Pace University’s auditorium stayed silent during the proceedings, but burst into applause and boos after the vote. Several people chanted “Shame on you” and “It’s a Trojan horse” as the commissioners exited the stage.
Afterward, Sharif El-Gamal, developer of Park51, said he was “deeply grateful” for the vote. El-Gamal declined to say when he would demolish 45-47 Park Place and begin construction on the center.
El-Gamal later released a statement saying the next step is for Park51 to become a registered nonprofit and appoint an advisory board. Then, the project's backers will create an operating plan and begin raising money.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and several local politicians released statements praising the commission's vote.
"The true way to honor the 3000 people who died on 9/11 is to respond to the proposal of this mosque and cultural center with support," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told reporters.
"Any further attempt to derail this development would, at its core, be un-American and a violation of all of our first Amendments rights," she said.
But critics also voiced their dismay.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio attended Tuesday's meeting and afterward repeated his calls for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate the project’s funding.
Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son was killed on 9/11, said after the meeting that the primary issue is the project's insensitivity, not the landmarking of a building.
"This is not going to go away," she said of the opposition to the project. "People will continue to speak out."
The conservative American Center for Law and Justice plans to file a lawsuit against the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Wednesday, ACLJ lawyer Brett Joshpe said.
The suit will allege that the commission acted arbitrarily and violated procedures, Joshpe said.
A spokeswoman for the city Law Department said the department would thoroughly review any legal papers that were filed.
Ro Sheffe, chairman of Community Board 1's Financial District Committee and a supporter of Park51, said he looked forward to the amenities the center would provide, including a 500-seat auditorium, classrooms and a culinary school.
"The sooner we get this new community center, the better for the community," Sheffe said.