By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — A conservative group filed a lawsuit Wednesday to halt the 13-story mosque and community center slated to rise near Ground Zero.
In the 14-page suit, the American Center for Law and Justice slams the city Landmarks Preservation Commission for not protecting the historic building that an Islamic group plans to tear down to make way for the center, known as Park51.
“LPC acted in an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable manner and allowed the intended use of the building and political considerations to taint the deliberative process,” the ACLJ states in the suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court.
The Landmarks Commission voted unanimously Tuesday that the 152-year-old building, 45-47 Park Place, was not significant enough to preserve. Several commissioners said they were careful not to consider the future plans for the site when making their decision.
But Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a statement that the city rushed the process and did not consider the public’s comments.
Sekulow also believes the city did not pay enough attention to the damage the building suffered on 9/11, when the landing gear of one of the jets crashed through the roof.
Those scars qualify the building as a landmark, Sekulow said.
“The building is the only building of its kind that links the growth of American free enterprise to the present day events and the aftermath of September 11, 2001,” Sekulow said in the suit.
The Landmarks Commission referred comment to the city Law Department, which released the following statement:
“We have not yet been formally served, but we are confident that the Landmarks Preservation Commission carefully applied all legal standards and followed appropriate procedures," the Law Department said.
The Cordoba Initiative, the group building Park51, did not respond to a request for comment.
Bruce Ehrmann, co-chairman of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee and a supporter of Park51, called the Landmarks Commission’s actions “scrupulous” and said they did not depart from administrative precedent, as the suit alleges.
“No matter how one twists and turns their understanding, you cannot alter civic policy based on bigotry,” Ehrmann said.
Julie Menin, chairwoman of Community Board 1, pointed out that many buildings in lower Manhattan were damaged on 9/11, and it would not be in the community’s interest to preserve all of them.
“Under that test, we would still have 130 Liberty Street [the Deutsche Bank building] and Fiterman Hall in our community,” Menin said.
The American Center for Law and Justice filed the suit on behalf of firefighter Tim Brown, a first responder on 9/11.
The next step in the suit is for the city to file a response and possibly a motion to dismiss. If the case continues, it could go before a judge this fall.