Belleville Council Places Tax Lien on Historic Church
Councilman Kevin Kennedy says the move means nothing as long as current tenants remain and the building is not going to be put up for sale.
After spending money to brace the steeple at a historic Belleville church last fall, the Belleville Township Council voted to place a tax lien on the church's owners.
Councilman Kevin Kennedy did not attend the meeting, but said the lien will not help and the money should not have been spent to fix the weakened steeple.
The steeple had to be braced to keep it from collapsing after Superstorm Sandy caused damage last October, Kevin Esposito, Belleville township manager, said.
"The lien is useless," Kennedy said. "The congregation would have to sell the church for us to get any money, and they never will."
He said the congregation did not have insurance on the structure then, and does not have any now, to his knowledge.
"The money should never have been spent to have it fixed with them having no insurance," Kennedy said.
The church's current tenant, Iglasenda Antigua, a 65-member church, has no insurance, Esposito said, so the township stepped in to handle the problem.
Esposito said a contract not to exceed $43,000 was awarded to a restoration company to secure the steeple.
He said the township put a lien on the property, and expect a 100 percent reimbursement.
The church's pastor, Miguel Ortiz, could not be reached for comment.
The structure now houses a Spanish-speaking congregation and had to be secured so that Rutgers Street, a state highway thoroughfare, could reopen to allow access to the Belleville-North Arlington Bridge.
Belleville police had closed off Rutgers Street a few blocks west of the bridge Tuesday afternoon. In Belleville, the bridge could only be accessed from the Main Street side.
Every effort was made to save the steeple, and the town will not demolish the structure while doing everything possible to preserve the church, Esposito said.
Former commissioner Vincent Frantantoni has clashed with council members over failed efforts to have the more than 300-year-old Dutch Reformed Church designated as an historic landmark.
A successful designation would help bring funds to pay for needed repairs to the church's damaged steeple and the entire structure, Frantantoni has said several times.
Frantantoni said the town's historic preservation committee only needed about six months to a year to get the historic designation, but needed the local designation, which was never done.
Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli said the township's Historic Preservation Committee will take up the application again. He is a member of the committee.
The church was founded in 1697 by Dutch settlers, and then rebuilt three different times; according to officials the church is considered a priceless historical landmark and a link to the township's Revolutionary War past.
What to do with the site had long been an open question, officials said, with past efforts by both the former Dutch Reformed congregation and local officials to get historic-preservation funding proving unsuccessful.
Several years ago, the Dutch Reformed congregation, which was dwindling and elderly, decided they could no longer maintain the property and opted to sell.
The site includes the church, which was rebuilt in the 19th century, and the cemetery, the final resting place for 66 veterans of the Revolutionary War.
The Dutch Reformed congregation sold the property years ago to Iglasenda Antigua for $250,000, officials said.