By Julie Shapiro
UPPER EAST SIDE — A rowdy crowd of about 150 people turned out at a public hearing on the future of the Ground Zero mosque building Tuesday afternoon.
Most of those who testified urged the city to put the brakes on a planned 13-story mosque and community center at 45-47 Park Place by landmarking the existing 152-year-old building. The Cordoba Initiative, the group behind the mosque, plans to tear down the historic structure to erect the $100 million center two blocks north of Ground Zero.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission won’t vote on the issue until August, a spokeswoman said. The commissioners did not give their views or ask any questions during the emotional three-hour hearing.
Family members of those killed on 9/11 testified on both sides of the issue, some breaking down into tears as opponents shouted over them. At one point, LPC Chairman Bob Tierney urged a stricken woman to “just take a deep breath” so she could continue speaking.
NYPD officers posted around Hunter College’s 2,000-seat auditorium intervened only once, to remove Gary Phanuf, 54, a Staten Island resident who supports the mosque and shouted “Racist bigot! Boo,” whenever an opponent of the mosque spoke. Phanuf carried a sign that read “Stop Scapegoating All Muslims For 9/11.”
The first of the several dozen people who testified at Tuesday’s hearing were representatives of the Cordoba Initiative, who argued that the five-story loft building on Park Place is not worth landmarking.
“It falls short,” said Shelly Friedman, Cordoba Initiative’s land-use lawyer. “It is neither exemplary, nor unique, nor celebratory, nor historically significant.”
But Andrea Quinn, 46, a Queens resident, later countered that the building has clear historical significance because it was heavily damaged when the landing gear of one of the jets crashed through the roof on 9/11.
“Nothing could be more negative, more insensitive or more damaging to the American spirit [than demolishing the building],” Quinn said. “It is the commission’s duty to preserve this significant piece of American history.”
Rick Lazio, the Republican candidate for governor who has been very vocal in his opposition to the mosque, urged the commission to slow down and delay a vote.
"A delay in the process would allow us to get answers to critical questions," Lazio said, seemingly referencing his demand last week that AG Andrew Cuomo investigate the mosque's finance.
The Landmarks Commission will consider the architectural, historical and cultural aspects of a building, not future plans for the site, when making a decision.
Several speakers worried that the 11 commissioners, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would echo Bloomberg’s support for the Cordoba project without seriously considering the landmarking issues.
“Follow your integrity,” urged Sally Regenard, a Yonkers resident whose 28-year-old son, a probationary firefighter, was killed in the attacks. “Please do not fold to political forces.”
By the end of the hearing, the testimony had been reduced to a back-and-forth between speakers and angry audience members.
Rafique Kadhwari, 60, an Upper West Side resident who pulled out his passport to prove he was an American citizen, cut his statement short after being shouted down for expressing his support for the mosque.
“I do not need to say anything else [about the need for the Cordoba center’s educational aspects],” Kadhwari said. “My point has been made by these bigots here.”