City considers legal action on ‘blighted’ church
GLOVERSVILLE An Albany-based religious group could face additional legal action and possible fines for failing to restore stained glass windows it illegally removed from the historic Bleecker Square United Methodist Church in Gloversville two years ago.
The Gloversville City Council will meet tonight in executive session to discuss the city’s options, said Mayor Dayton King. “The ball is in our court,” he said.
The Church of God of Prophecy Northeast Region, which purchased the historic church in 2000 for $60,000, failed to comply with City Court orders that it restore the heirloom windows, market the church and maintain the exterior, said D. Robert Robbins Jr., Gloversville’s building and plumbing inspector.
“There was a deadline to complete the work, to replace the windows in a manner in compliance with historic board’s determination,” he said. “They also were to market the building and maintain the exterior.”
Had the religious group compiled with these conditions, it could have applied on Dec. 15 for partial or full forgiveness of a $60,000 fine leveled against it by a court a year ago, city officials said. The church never applied.
Bishop Cervin McKinnon of the Church of God of Prophecy Northeast Region did not return a phone call seeking for comment for this story.
Robbins cited the religious group last February for removing stained glass windows and a steeple clock without authorization from the Historic District Review Board. The board must approve any modifications to exteriors of buildings within a historic district in the city. The church was built in 1869. It closed around 2000, after a merger.
“They were ticketed and went to court and a judge issued a determination they were guilty,” Robbins said. “There were five tickets, one for each side of the building and one for the clock tower. Each was a $12,000 fine,” he said.
Robbins said the religious group could have replaced the stained glass with a similar material in order to remedy the condition, but never pursued that action. In addition, the religious group never maintained the exterior of the church. “They had to remove graffiti and keep it removed. It is still on doors,” he said.
The religious group had filed an application with the historic review board Feb. 4, 2011, seeking permission to remove the windows and clock. But before that board could meet, contractors entered the church the weekend of Feb. 5-6, 2011, and removed the windows and clock, filling all the openings with plywood.
Robert Meringolo, the Albany County art dealer hired by the church to remove the items, said in published reports he sold the stained glass windows and other items from the church.
King said the city needs to take action on the religious groups’ inaction. “This could be a slippery slope, so to speak, for the rest of city. If they get away with code violations, others will try to get away with violations. We take people to court over these violations.”
King said the building in its current condition is an eyesore for the city. “This is a blight issue. We have a farmers market next door, which is a positive thing in our community, and they have to park next to this church,” he said.
“This is an example of the struggles we have in a city that was one a booming glove center.”
The religious group does not use the church for meetings and must therefore pay property taxes on the structure, King said.
“They have been paying their taxes, they are a for-profit. They are trying to sell the building,” he said.
King added that he wishes the group success, as the city does not want the responsibility of having to demolish the church as it had to do with the First Baptist Church on South Main Street a few years ago.