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2nd Oldest Staten Island Church Eyed for Landmarking Amid Development Fears

By Nicholas Rizzi | September 1, 2017 11:14am | Updated on September 5, 2017 8:21am
 A group of local activists started a push to get the city to landmarked St. Mary's Church, which opened in 1852, over fear it could be sold to developers.
A group of local activists started a push to get the city to landmarked St. Mary's Church, which opened in 1852, over fear it could be sold to developers.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

ROSEBANK — Community activists and elected officials have begun a push to persuade the city to landmark Staten Island's second oldest church amid fears it could fall into the hands of developers.

The Archdiocese of New York and the Landmarks Preservation Commission have no immediate plans for St. Mary's Church on Bay Street, but residents fear it will face a similar fate to the more than a dozen former churches around the city put up for sale this summer.

"Not only is it historically import but it's also a visual landmark for Rosebank," said Barbara Sanchez, secretary of the Friends of Mount Manresa which launched an online petition to landmark St. Mary's earlier this year. "I think its important for us to preserve these historic buildings and the character of the neighborhoods."

The church operated for more than 150 years at 1101 Bay St. until it ceased services in 2015. Since then the Archdiocese deconsecrated former churches around the city for potential sale for “profane, but not sordid" purposes in July and sold the 90-year-old Holy Rosary in South Beach to developers in February.

St. Mary's sits on land zoned for high density housing and with plans announced earlier this year to build more than 400 apartments in the neighborhood, residents fear it could be a prime spot for developers, Sanchez said.

After losing the former Jesuit retreat house Mount Manresa to developers, the Friends of Mount Manresa launched a push to get the city to landmark St. Mary's before it's too late.

They created an online petition which gathered nearly 850 signatures and garnered support from Community Board 1, which voted to request landmark status for St. Mary's.

The group also helped get St. Mary's listed as an in-danger property by the Staten Island Preservation League and Councilwoman Debi Rose wrote a letter to the city in July to landmark it.

"Our North Shore is the center of great interest for some of that progress and change whether it's the New York Observation Wheel to a potential rezoning and all the energy mixed with concerns that those opportunities bring," Rose wrote to the Landmark Preservation Commission.

"With that backdrop, it is not at all surprising that there is such a strong groundswell in the area to hold onto the best of what has been so that the progress and change is set on a foundation that reflects who and what the North Shore has always been."

A spokeswoman for Landmarks said the agency is currently reviewing the application for the church and a spokesman for the Archdiocese said in an email Thursday to DNAinfo New York they have "no plans of any kind at this time" for the site.

St. Mary's Church first opened for service Oct. 2, 1832 and is the second oldest church still standing in the borough, behind St. Peter's in St. George, according to Catholic New York.

Sanchez said the group was shocked about how many residents and former Staten Islanders signed their petition and shared memories on how important the church was to the community.

"There a lot of people in Rosebank that still live there or have moved out and they have a deep connection to the church," she said.

"I think a lot of people also realized that these places are starting to disappear, especially after our experience at Mount Manresa. I think they're a little more attuned with these announcements."