- Posted December 17, 2013 by
Staten Island, New York
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Tell us the Good Stuff!
Its not a "Done Deal!" Staten Island Community Unites to Save Environment, History
Everyone said that the sale of Mount Manresa in Staten Island was a "done deal." But that didn't stop Jack Bolembach.
The shocking sale had been announced in the Staten Island Advance that this historical site, the first retreat house in America was being sold builder Savo Brothers. The 15 acres were zoned for townhouses, and the builders were getting this prime real estate for $15 million.
The shock wasn't that the property was being sold, it was who it was being sold to. Everyone had been under the impression it would be sold to a non-profit and continue to be used in the tradition it had for over 100 years -- a place of healing, a greenspace, and a place of solace open to the community. The sale to the builder meant destruction of all of these things.
Jack promptly typed a dense two page letter, emphasizing the environment, the terminal morraine formed during the last Ice Age and the rare forest of Old Growth Trees. He made a thousand photocopies and delivered his letter throughout the surrounding community late at night after work.
Joe Bilotti the rosary club leader at Mount Manresa for over 17 years had been praying for help after the sale was announced. Jack's letter landed in his mailbox, and he knew his prayers had been answered.
Beth Malone caught Jack putting the letter in her mail box late one night. She asked him what he was doing, and he talked to her for 2 hours about Mount Manresa. The next day, Beth gave the letter to Natalie Permikovia and Gloria Tepper, her neighbor the condo development that bordered Mount Manresa.
Charlotte Metzer received Jack's letter in the mailbox of her Victorian home on a few blocks away from Mount Manresa. She made a shorter version of Jack's letter and posted it at the express bus stop with tear offs that included the url for a petition that Jack started on Moveon.org.
Barbara Sanchez , President of Narrows Crossings Condo, had been thinking about doing something about the sale, but didn't know where to start, and then she saw Charlotte's poster.
On June 1. 2013 the first rally was held at the gates of Mount Manresa over 150 people showed up on a 90 degree day to show their opposition to the sale.
The group eventually became known as "The Committee to Save Mount Manresa," It was formed out of the Community Board 1 meeting, where Jack Bolembach stood up to voice his concern about the sale.
Its been six months and over 40 rallies at Mount Manresa, a rally at Borough Hall and City Hall in New York City, a panel discussion, weekly meetings, a temporary restraining order, and several fundraisers for legal and expert fees and thousands of emails, letters, phone calls and facebook posts and tweets to try and Save Mount Manresa. The petition has over 10,000 signatures.
There is currently a temporary restraining order protecting the buildings and trees from being harmed, but this is temporary. The Judge is expected to finalize his decision and the sale will be allowed to go through.
The ultimate goal of the Committee is to have the property purchased and saved as a parkland for the public to enjoy. There are many ways to accomplish this, if the buyer and/or seller are willing to compromise. This includes the City of New York or non-profit organizations purchasing the existing structures to operate their business. But time is running out.
The Jesuits have made it clear that they intend to sell to the builder. In a letter to Borough President Elect Jim Oddo, Father Hallinan told the elected official to "Put up or Shut Up."
The Committee continues to work hard to get word out about Mount Manresa throughout Staten Island, NYC and New York State and has even appealed to Pope Francis for help preventing the sale from going through (It is stated in the sales contract, that the Holy See must approve the sale).
While the sale is still pending, the Committee continues to look for an "angel" to help purchase the property and preserve it, the historic buildings the grotto, the well tower and rare old growth trees for future generations.
While they still haven't found the funds to save the 15 acres, the committee has built a network of support, which includes the Sierra Club, The Historic Districts Council, the Staten Island Preservation League, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, Friends of Blue Heron Park and National Resources Protective Association.
They also have support of Staten Island's Elected officials. State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis are also plaintiffs in the Committee's lawsuit against the sale of the property.
Six months after the first rally, the Committee marvels in how far the come. They celebrate the friendships made during this intense experience. And thank Jack for his letter that united them all.
"Its not a done deal" is the mantra of the Committee to Save Mount Manresa. Theirs is a story not always listening to what "everyone says." And how the courage to "do something" (like writing a letter and putting it in 1000 mailboxes) can inspire a community to fight for their future.
- My life