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“Church Without Walls” Wants Some

by Allan Appel | Dec 12, 2013 1:35 pm

(4) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Beaver Hills, The Hill, Trowbridge Square

Allan Appel Photo A home-based church in Beaver Hills is ready to expand across town to Trowbridge Square—if it can convince to city to sell it a shuttered youth center for $1 million, then raise big money to renovate the building.

The congregation, Healing and Deliverance Ministries, met Sunday as it as for the past three years in the living room of its pastor, Clara Robinson. The service took place in a trim well kept house on Winthrop Avenue just off Crescent behind Hillhouse High School. (Click on the video for a sample of the “song and praise service” that unfolded in the cramped but graceful space of this Pentecostal-style, unaffiliated church.)

A banner hung above the venetian blinds in the living room. “Church without walls,” it read.

The church now wants some walls, a formal building. It has its sights on the city-owned former Hill Cooperative Youth Services building (aka the “Barbell Club”) in the Trowbridge Square section of the Hill neighborhood.

The church’s plan faces two obstacles. The deed calls for the building’s use to be for “recreation.” And the building, though a beautiful pile of bricks still in its facade, is completely gone on the inside and needs vast renovation to be brought up to code.

Still the church is willing to try to overcome those challenges. It is poised to retain a lawyer, and wants to begin, if the city will give the nod. Or at least a direction how to proceed.

That has not been forthcoming.

On Sunday, the congregation had some 40 green and golden chairs arrayed in Robinson’s home, with a small upright piano beside bookcases to the front and a set of drums and keyboard in the back.

With Bible study, a leadership class, and praise dancing as well as other activities on all the rest of the nights of the week, the home is packed. That’s why it’s time to expand, said James Bethune, who heads the church’s relocation committee.

Bethune and the Robinsons all grew up in the Hill. That’s why their search has led to this building. The Barbell Club has been vacant since 2006. (Click here for a story about neighbors’ efforts to revive it.)

The Robinson and Bethune clan said in addition to running a church, they would aim to “adopt” the area, seeking to help rebuild the African-American family in a place ravaged by drugs, unemployment, and dereliction.

James Bethune, who grew up on Ward and Sylvan, attended seventh and eight grade at the building, then the Trowbridge School, in the 1970s. He called the church’s goals for the building a “mission.”

Bethune (pictured) began his search in June. He discovered the land and 1925 building, which replaced 16 workers’ houses in historic Trowbridge Square across from the park,  had been deeded to the city’s parks department for recreational or youth services only. That made the deed restrictive.

No mention of a church.

The other problem: The building, which stands at 160 Carlisle St. and extends down Salem and fronts at least half of the square’s eastern boundary, is handsome on the outside still, but a disaster inside. When the building was closed as a youth center, it was boarded up. But it was badly vandalized and broken into with pipes and the insides stolen or destroyed.

“We are very much frustrated,” said Bethune, a facilities manager with one of the companies contracted by state Department of Transportation to rebuild the I-95 Corridor and Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.

He said the church would set up a food pantry and counsel people struggling with substance abuse, if it moves to Trowbridge Square.

“We want to build back the family unit through Christ as it should be. We’ve seen the whole neighborhood decay. And nobody seems to care about it. We’d like to adopt the neighborhood,” Bethune said.

Acting parks director Christy Hass said Monday that her staff is arranging a walk-through for the church group this week.

That said, she added, “we’ve had several churches and other groups, and they walked away afterwards. Their ideas and proposals, none came to fruition because of the expense involved. “

And the deed. “Our legal opinion has said it can be razed but not leased or sold. Either we find a way to restore it for rec[reational] purposes, which is extremely expensive [or]we have to come up with a plan with parks and the alders and the neighborhood. Coming up with a solution in absence of a master plan has not worked,” she said.

“I’m sure there’s a legal beagle who can figure something out but we have to stick with our opinion we have now.”

Fear Of Demolition
Bethune said his committee checked out the whole neighborhood in the search for a building. The only formal church building currently available is the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Columbus Avenue. The archdiocese is selling it, but for more than the Healing and Deliverance congregation can afford. The building is also too big, said Pastor Robinson.

The church elders also said they fear the Barbell Club building will be demolished if they don’t buy it. Bethune presented a Dec. 16, 2009, memo that he had obtained; it was written by David Greenberg at the city’s corporation counsel office to then-parks chief Robert Levine

At that time apparently someone had expressed an interest in purchase or rental of 160 Carlisle. Greenberg wrote:

“In approving the acquisition of the above captioned property by the City of New Haven, the order of the Board of Aldermen required that it be ‘included in the New Haven Park System under the jurisdiction of the New Haven Park Commission.’ The deed conveying the property to the City of New Haven includes a covenant restricting the use of the property for park purposes only as set forth in the Order of the Board of Aldermen. In view of the foregoing in my opinion, the property is not marketable nor can it be leased. However the building on the property may be demolished.”

Bethune said he knows all about demolition. The home he grew up in at Ward and Sylvan was torn down; Career High now stands on it. He’s praying that he can stop another demolition.

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Comments

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 12, 2013  2:22pm

So the building can be demolished before it can be used for another purpose besides a youth center? Even though it’s considered a non-contributing building in the Trowbridge Square Historic District, it would still be a shame to lose this Brown & Von Beren design.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on December 12, 2013  2:44pm

If anyone knows the tax implications of this deal, please let us know. There’s currently no tax being paid on the abandoned city-owned property. But, what happens if the Church buys the property and builds on it? Is the Church still required to pay building and permit fees, or are they exempt because of their nonprofit status? Also, once the Church builds on the property, will they pay any real estate taxes, or will they be exempt because of their nonprofit status? If it’s the latter, I believe the City needs to begin to implement an alternative minimum tax (AMT)or some sort of fee that covers basic services. The City has become overrun with small churches and can ill afford to provide services gratis.

posted by: anonymous on December 12, 2013  2:58pm

Can this be renovated as a housing unit?

The problem is that, over the past 20 years, we have demolished so many private houses to build new schools in this area - so there’s little sustainable fabric left. 

Neighborhoods simply don’t work when 50% of the neighborhood is given over to schools, parking lots for schools, athletic fields for schools, and youth agencies.  You need more of a balance and mix of uses and density to generate 24/7 traffic and safety.

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/the_hill_doc/

posted by: A Contrarian on December 12, 2013  2:58pm

The building deserves to be saved.  Where’s NHPT on this?  Why can’t the city stabilize the building until a proper use can be found?  Is this area included in the “Hill-to-Downtown” proposal?

If I had a vote, I’d say no to the church.  Aren’t there vacant churches in NH that might be well-suited for this “church without walls”?

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