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No Porn, Abortion Counseling Allowed at Church's Residential Conversion

By Serena Dai | September 22, 2015 5:36pm | Updated on September 22, 2015 6:30pm
 Saints Paul and Peters Church is leasing out one of its building and its parking lot to a developer.
Williamsburg Church to Be Converted to Residences
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SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — A portion of a nearly century-old Catholic church will soon be converted into apartments — with the developer renting the land starting at $2.1 million per year.

Developer Watermark Capital Group is leasing land from the debt-ridden Saints Peter and Paul Church, at 321 Wythe Ave., to convert one of the buildings and the parking lot into a multifamily residence, court documents show.

While 321 Wythe Ave. won’t be used for worship anymore, the church stipulated that certain activities not in line with Catholicism will be banned even after the conversion.

A clause in the lease bars a variety of activities associated with abortion, birth control, euthanasia, stem-cell research or pornography in the space, including any "obscene" performances or the sale or distribution of pornographic material.

The developer can also not allow the performance of abortions or euthanasia, or counseling on abortion, birth control and euthanasia. They also can't place any signs up on the property that relate to abortion, birth control or euthanasia. Research on human fetal tissue, embryos or euthanasia is also banned on the property.

Any violation “would be seriously damaging and harmful to the reputation and standing of the [Diocese] as a religious corporation” and would be grounds for a lawsuit, the lease says.

The church — which owes more than $450,000 in "liabilities," including $275,000 in long-term debt — will maintain its building at 288 Berry St., but the one-story structure on Wythe Avenue with an entrance on South Third Street will be swallowed by the new development, the documents said.

The church was founded in 1844, but city records show it arrived at its current address around 1920.

Neither Watermark nor Saints Peter and Paul immediately returned a request for comment. The Diocese of Brooklyn also did not immediately respond.

Dozens of churches across Brooklyn have been converted into condos over the past decade as congregations dwindled and the churches struggled.

Watermark is experienced with turning former churches or church buildings into luxury apartments, including St. Mary's Catholic Church in East Williamsburg, at 81 Ten Eyck St.

It's not unprecedented for churches to screen the new uses of buildings that have fallen into disuse.

When the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston was selling seven of its churches, it said it would not sell for uses conflicting with Catholic teachings, including abortion.

The Diocese of Brooklyn will also maintain a level of control over how the new residential development in South Williamsburg will appear, according to court documents.

The lease gives the church some power of approval over the development’s design, stating that the look is of “utmost importance” due to the spiritual role of the neighboring church property that will remain on the grounds.

Aside from apartments, the new development will include 2,500 square feet of community space that will primarily be used by the residents, according to the lease.

Saints Peter and Paul's Church will earn a healthy return form the long-term lease, which has options for renewal after 50 and 70  years.

Rent for the first two years — a total of $4.2 million — will be due immediately, according to the lease.

It will stay fixed at $2.1 million per year, or $175,000 per month, for 10 years, but by the 26th year, rent will increase to 7 percent of the lot's fair market value and cannot be less than $3.36 million.

Three decades from now, the yearly rent for the land will increase 10 percent every five years until the first rent renewal option.

Cash from the rent will go toward the costs and expenses of the church and payments of any debt, according to a petition filed with the court requesting approval to rent the property.

It's unclear exactly when the construction process will start, but the developer is legally required to start submitting plans to the church within a year of getting approval to build.