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Organizers Push for City to Save Retreat House on Staten Island

By Nicholas Rizzi | January 30, 2014 9:35am
 Organizers trying to save the Jesuit retreat house Mount Manresa have started a new push to use eminent domain to turn the site in a park.
Organizers trying to save the Jesuit retreat house Mount Manresa have started a new push to use eminent domain to turn the site in a park.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

ROSEBANK — Staten Islanders fighting to save a religious retreat have called on the city to use eminent domain to block its sale and turn it into a public park.

Last month, Supreme Court Justice Charles Troia ruled to deny requests from opponents to bar the $15 million sale of the Jesuit retreat house Mount Manresa to private developers, NY1 reported.

The Committee to Save Mount Manresa waged a nearly six-month long battle against the sale to Save Brothers, which plans to build townhouses on the site. The campaign group started a second petition last week to use eminent domain which organizers said would be best way to fully preserve the land, said committee secretary Barbara Sanchez.

"It seems like it's the right way to protect the community, the health and the quality of life," Sanchez said. "There's just so much about that place that's important and eminent domain would be the way to save it."

Sanchez said the group had the idea for the government to use eminent domain to turn the site into a park from the start, but pushed other ways to save it first because use of the power is rare.

But, seeing the large amount of support from the community to save the area, the group decided to make eminent domain their primary focus.

"It's not something that's used that often, but it is a possibility we're pushing because we think [Mount Manresa is] that important to the community," she said.

"People are very supportive of what we're trying to do. If we're getting the support from the community, why shouldn't it be the option?"

The original petition to save the site has nearly 10,000 signatures and the new one for eminent domain already has more than 400 since it was started on Jan. 26, Sanchez said.

The group also printed new signs pushing for eminent domain and plan to meet with elected officials to garner support for the plan.

Eminent domain is the government's power to acquire land without the consent of the owner in order to use it for projects that provide "public benefit."

It has recently been controversially used to claim land in Brooklyn to build the Barclays Center, but also has been used to turn land into parks like Central Park.

Almost immediately after it was announced, organizers rallied against the plan to sell the 102-year-old Mount Manresa saying the buildings and trees were too historic to tear down.

"The current and future generations are being denied all the beauty," Jack Bolembach, a member of the committee, previously told DNAinfo New York. "Most people don't know what's back there, they've never seen the value. It's a ready-made park."

And while the judge has approved the sale, organizers remain optimistic they can still preserve the site.

"They told us that it was a done deal six months ago," Sanchez said. "If we'd listened, we wouldn't be here today."