Developer who bought historic Palisades church for $2.25M plans to keep it up
EDGEWATER — Residents worried that a century-old church might be demolished by a developer may now have reason to rejoice.
The new owners of the old Presbyterian church on Undercliff Avenue have no intention of knocking down the main stone-facade structure, a company representative told New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday, explaining that a demolition permit they obtained from the borough will be used to demolish the church's annex.
"The old stone church will remain," said Andy Park, a project coordinator working with Harry & Solomon LLC, which purchased the property in February for $2.25 million.
News of the demolition permit sparked an online petition, which gained more than 400 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
Park said he had "no idea yet" what the ultimate fate of the property would be, but added that the developers "had to change our game plan." Without going into detail, Park said the land will be used for residential purposes and that the ultimate decision will "depend on what the town decides."
Jabeau Lopez, who lives near the church, started the petition to convince the owners to leave the structure standing. Having received a message in the mail about the planned demolition, Lopez said, she wanted to do her part to try and help save at least the outside of the building.
"It has so much history and all of the houses are like single-family homes. They have so much character and so much charm and backyards," she said. Lopez said she has seen many instances around the town where developers are buying land to build condos, which she said is what she is trying to avoid with the old Presbyterian Church, although no plan has yet been filed with the borough.
More recently known as the Lord's Grace Church, Lopez said, the building remains an active part of the community for meetings and other functions in the community.
"It was an active church up until I heard that they sold it," she said. "You could hear Masses going on on the weekends, at night time, it's still an active church absolutely."
Even though she lives next door to the church, Lopez said, she was unaware the church had been sold, or that it would be demolished until she got the notice in her mailbox.
According to a story on NorthJersey.com the Presbyterian church, which first opened on Undercliff Avenue in 1907, closed in April 2010 and was sold a year later to a Korean congregation, according to property records.
In a post on the petition site, Mayor Michael McPartland said he was in favor of trying to save the church.
"I agree the church should be deemed a historical site," he said in a post on the petition website.
The mayor says he met with the borough's lawyers to see if there was anything that could be done from that standpoint, but that ultimately there was not.
"The church property was sold and the new owner wants to move forward," he wrote.
Despite being a part of the borough for more than a century, Lopez said nothing had ever been done to have it added to a historic registry.
"It's interesting to me that nothing had been done previously," she said. "It was part of Edgewater's history, it has been around for 100 years, it was built from the stones of the palisades."
The same stones that built the church, she said, can also be seen all around the town, only reinforcing the church's historical significance.
"It wasn't until it was really sold and I got something in the mail that I said. 'Wait a minute, I thought this was protected.'" she said.
"People have been overwhelmingly supportive about it and have asked what we can do," she said.
Even as someone who does not consider herself religious, Lopez said, the idea of demolishing a church does not sit right with her.
"I don't practice, but I do see this church as beautiful and history," she said. "I can appreciate a great building. I can appreciate what its done for the town. I'm like, no way this can not go down without a fight."
"Demolish the halls, put in your cookie cutter condos, and leave the church. Leave the structure. Leave the bones. Leave the facade of the church," she said.
Lopez said cities like Hoboken are finding ways to keep the exteriors of old buildings in tact while showing off the historic exteriors to be enjoyed for generations to come.
"Edgewater can do that without knocking down all these places and just putting up condos," she said.
In his second post on the petition's page, the mayor said he hoped the two sides could find common ground.
"I appealed to him to leave the church in tact while taking down the adjacent hall," he said. "He did not give any guarantees, however, I believe he understands the sensitivity of taking down such a unique structure."
Construction officer John Candelmo could not be reached for comment seeking the status of any plans for the property.
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Sergio Bichao contributed to this report
Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com