FORT WADSWORTH — Workers started to cut down the nearly 400-year-old trees at the former Jesuit retreat house Mount Manresa on Tuesday morning, a day after a temporary restraining order stopping development of the site was lifted.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Peter Moulton declined an injunction stopping developers Savo Brothers from starting work to build housing at a hearing on Monday, members of the Committee to Save Mount Manresa said.
Neighbors said they started to hear loud crashes from falling trees around 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Opponents gathered in front of the site to protest the destruction of the historic area.
"This is a disgrace," said Pete Parisi, 48, who grew up in the neighborhood. "They're knocking down trees that are hundreds of years old. This was a staple of the community."
"It's clearly an intimidation to send a powerful and strong message," said Loretta Drogon of the Committee to Save Mount Manresat about the work starting suddenly after the ban was lifted.
The Savo Brothers declined to comment for this story, but they hired two workers at each entrance of the site to stand guard and keep protestors from getting past a fence.
The Savo Brothers were slapped with a week-long temporary stop work order by Judge Moulton on April 8 to keep the site whole while protestors argued in court that the 15-acre site should be landmarked and that environmental studies are needed.
However, on Monday the judge denied the injunction to continue the stop on work until court hearings finish.
The $15 million sale of the site — which has historic buildings and 400-year-old trees — to the Savo Brothers from the Jesuits was finalized in February. Protesters have unsuccessfully campaigned to reverse the sale.
The developers plan to build 250 housing units at the site, the Staten Island Advance reported, but the Committee to Save Mount Manresa hoped the city would landmark it and turn it into a park.
The committee has pushed to get Mayor Bill de Blasio to visit and for the Landmark's Preservation Committee to protect the site. Councilwoman Debi Rose also introduced a resolution to save the land in February.
Even as chainsaws started taking down trees, the protestors who gathered outside in the rain vowed to continue to fight until the very end.
"This is not the end," Drogon said. "We'll have a park here without the trees in it. All of us are committed."