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For Once, A Manhattan Church Fights Not To Build Condos

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St. Michael's Episcopal Church is bucking the trend. As opposed to sacrificing itself at the altar of lucrative real estate projects, as is the norm these days, the 206-year-old house of worship on the Upper West Side is actually trying to untangle itself from a 2008 agreement with developers. The Times details the church's love-hate relationship with real estate. The good news: in 2005, when the church's 1895-built Romanesque home needed repairs, megadeveloper Extell paid $12.5 million for 70,000 square feet of air rights, which instigated the construction the kinda hated, once-home-to-Hasselbacks Ariel West tower on Broadway.

The rest of the money was used to buy back a lot on the corner of 100th Street and Amsterdam. In 2008, the church partnered with two developers, Getz Obstfeld and Chester Development, to build a 14-story, 69-condo building on the church-adjacent site. The $33 million project would've netted St. Michael's at least $12M, and grant it some extra space for Sunday School classes and the like.

But then the financial crisis hit so funding vanished, and parish leadership changed, and there was a change of heart over how to use the vacant lot. There's ongoing litigation, but it boils down to the fact that the church no longer wants condos built there, while Obstfeld and Chester want to hold it to the memorandum of understanding signed in 2008 that allowed them to build. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that the memorandum wasn't binding because the diocese—the land's true owner—never approved it. The church's interim priest holds that its constituents won't be "walking doormats," while the developers still want the land transferred to their control and are suing for $10 million in damages besides.

For once, church and state condos aren't on the same side. Who will win?
· Church Rethinks Development Plan; Legal Fight Ensues [NYT]
· Mapping 26 NYC Houses of Worship Being Replaced By Condos [Curbed]