Maspeth’s former St. Savior’s Church earned a temporary reprieve this week, thanks to asbestos.
The city Department of Environmental Protection ordered the demolition of the former church on 58th Street to stop after asbestos roof shingles were discovered on the property.
The agency also found the current owner, Maspeth Development LLC, had not filed the proper demolition paperwork before it began to clear the site for apartments.
The company is seeking to replace the 159 year old church with housing. Pat Jones, the land use counsel for Maspeth Development, said they hope to put 70 units on the site, assuming they receive the zoning change they have applied for. The lot is not currently zoned for housing.
According to department spokeswoman Natalie Millner, the agency sent investigators to the site on Sunday after they received complaints from neighbors that workers there were improperly disposing of asbestos. Once on the site, they discovered the asbestos shingles.
Unlike asbestos insulation, the shingles don’t pose much danger of releasing asbestos fibers into the air, but they still need to be handled and disposed of by a properly certified contractor, according to Millner. The company handling the demolition is not certified, she said.
In addition, the investigators discovered the company had not filed the proper paperwork before starting the job. Demolition jobs have to be certified with the environmental protection agency to make sure any dangerous materials, like asbestos, are handled properly.
As a result, the department issued a stop work order that will remain until remedial measures are taken and the proper paperwork is filed, Millner said. As of Tuesday, that had not been done.
Jones said that he understood the measures are to include erecting a plastic tent over the church building, where the shingles were found, to contain any debris. He said they expect to be working again within a week.
The lot covers an entire block between 57th Drive and 58th Road. It is a hill dotted with trees, with the church sitting on top of the hill offering a commanding view of the surrounding neighborhood. An attached hall, a two story house, and some storage sheds are also on the property.
It was formerly occupied by the San Sung Korean Methodist Church of New York, which owned the church from 1997 until it was sold to Maspeth Development last October. Before that, it was an Episcopal church, founded in 1847 at a time when Maspeth was still a rural suburb of New York City. A dwindling congregation led the parish to close in 1995.
The Juniper Park Civic Association sought landmark protection for the property, but was turned down by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which said repairs after a 1970 fire made the church ineligible.
The association is now calling for the demolition permits to be revoked due to the violations.
The association is also looking at the original deed for the land, which reportedly bars it from being used for anything except a church, and the possibility there may be graves on the property.
Jones said he hadn’t seen the deed himself, but that both sides in the sale had legal counsel and the deal was cleared by the New York Department of State, which must approve all property sales by non profit groups. Any deed restrictions would likely have been caught at that time, he said.
Talking at a City Council hearing on historic districts on Monday, Councilman Dennis Gallagher, of Middle Village, said that neighborhood groups are pursuing legal action to stop the demolition.
“We have three attorneys working on an order to show cause,” he said, adding that they were still looking to find a person or organization with the proper legal standing to take the case to court.