By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church has sued the Port Authority for the right to rebuild their house of worship after its destruction on 9/11.
For the past several years the leaders of the small church, previously located just south of the World Trade Center, have been embroiled in a battle with the Port Authority over where and how to rebuild it.
Now, in a lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday, the church is accusing the Port Authority of seizing the church's land without permission and of violating the church's freedom of religion.
"It's not about money," said Father Mark Arey, spokesman for the church and ecumenical officer with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. "We have the responsibility to protect the property of our church. [The Port Authority] won't talk to us. What else are we supposed to do?"
The two sides reached a preliminary deal in 2008 that would have given the church a larger parcel of land to the east of their original site and $20 million to rebuild.
But the Port Authority broke off negotiations in 2009, saying the church was making too many demands. The Port then took over the church's property and has been using it to build infrastructure for the World Trade Center site.
The Port Authority declined to comment on the litigation directly but released a statement defending the agency's actions.
"After eight months of negotiations in which the demands of the Orthodox Church continued to increase over and above what was originally agreed to in 2008, the Port Authority had to make a practical decision to move on or risk further delaying the entire World Trade Center project," the Port Authority said in the statement.
Both the Port Authority and the church said they would have preferred to resolve the matter out of court, but each accused the other of refusing to meet to discuss the issues.
In addition to the Port Authority, the suit also names the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Empire State Development Corp. and Port Authority officials Chris Ward and David Tweedy.