By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — The leaders of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed on 9/11, are taking legal action to defend their right to rebuild.
The small church just south of the World Trade Center filed a notice of claim against the Port Authority on Monday, accusing the Port of "arrogance, bad faith and fraudulent conduct" and "shabby and unlawful treatment of the church."
The claim also charges the Port Authority with violating the church’s rights, including the free exercise of religion.
The two sides have been arguing for years over where and how to rebuild the church. They reached a preliminary deal in 2008 but were unable to finalize it. In March 2009, the Port Authority broke off negotiations and seized the church’s parcel to construct an underground parking garage for the World Trade Center site.
The church and the Port Authority have not spoken since then, though each side claims to have made overtures to the other.
"This is a reluctant action, but we feel like we’ve been left with no choice," said Father Mark Arey, ecumenical officer with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and spokesman for the church. "We have not been able to get their attention."
The notice of claim allows the church to file a lawsuit against the Port Authority 60 days from now.
The church is hoping to get a court order enforcing the 2008 agreement, in which the Port promised to give the church a larger site farther east and $20 million to rebuild, in exchange for the original parcel. The church also plans to seek restitution and damages from the Port Authority for using the property without permission and for allegedly making false statements.
"The church is doing this out of sorrow, not out of anger," said Mark Cunha, the lawyer representing the church. "We’re trying to get the Port Authority to do the right thing and the decent thing here."
Port Authority spokesman John Kelly declined to comment on the pending litigation but said in an e-mail that the Port hoped to resume negotiations with the church, as long as that did not delay the rebuilding of the Trade Center.
"In 2008, we worked hard to come to what we thought was a very generous agreement with Church representatives," Kelly said in an e-mail.
"Unfortunately, after nine months of negotiations in which the demands of the [church] continued to increase over and above what we originally agreed to in 2008, we had to make a practical decision to move on or risk further delaying the World Trade Center project."
Arey said the church was concerned about the timing of the land and money transfers and had not been asking for additional compensation back in 2009.
The notice filed Monday also names the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Empire State Development Corp. and individual government officials. The ESDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman for the LMDC declined to comment.