On the surface, the idea of preserving buildings of architectural and/or cultural significance as city landmarks sounds great, but one Bronx church doesn’t want that designation. The Immaculate Conception Church in Melrose was on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s backlog and was one of the 30 sites that, in February, were prioritized for designation. The church fears what the designation will mean for even simple maintenance costs, the New York Times reported.
If the church is designated, and a vote is slated for April 12, it means any work on its exterior will have to be approved by the LPC. Depending on what needs to be done, that doesn’t necessarily mean a full public hearing, but it does mean it will need to get the commission’s approval. Even without designation, the church hasn’t had the money to replace the copper steeple that had to be dismantled when it literally started falling apart 20 years ago.
It's quite common for religious institutions to oppose their own designations. So, it isn't surprising that news that the proposed designation has come back to life after over three decades on the backlog was not well-received by Rev. Francis Skelly. "This was the worst possible news I could have heard," he told the Times. "The landmarks commission doesn’t care about people, they care about buildings. We are an immigrant parish. Financially, we break even. But we’re always a boiler explosion away from being in financial trouble."
Skelly has worked at St. Cecilia’s Church in East Harlem. A roof and masonry repair job there had been estimated at $1.2 million, but using materials and contractors acceptable to the commission upped the cost to $3.3 million.
The commission, for its part, said that landmarked properties aren’t left on their own. LPC Communications Director Damaris Olivo said that there are state funds and private grants available. "Our approach to saving these buildings is to collaborate with religious organizations to find solutions that benefit them and the public interest," she told the Times.
While the vote has yet to take place, the designation of the church is all but certain. There is significant public support for preserving the structure, which dates back to 1887, and the commission wouldn’t have prioritized items from its 95-item backlog that it didn’t intend to actually designate.