St. Jude's Historic Preservation Vote Could Be a Smokescreen for Developers

It sounds like a rare victory for common sense in Miami: After hours of debate, city commissioners voted last week to declare that a 66-year-old church surrounded by Brickell skyscrapers is a historic structure. What kind of a monster wouldn't want to save a tiny old church?

Well, for starters, the vast majority of parishioners and church leaders. A tangled web of developers and millions in air rights suggest there's more than civic goodwill at work at St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church.

"With all the dirtiness and vehemence, there is something more than just the historic designation," says St. Jude's pastor, Rev. Damon Geiger.

Geiger says there are many reasons to oppose the designation. It would cost the church tens of thousands of dollars because insurance rates would go up, and repairs would be subjected to a lengthier, costlier process.

But despite those protestations, powerful brothers Shadi and Wasim Shomar brought a petition before Miami's historic preservation board in February.

"At some point, a group of us parishioners thought that this is a good time for us to move ahead," Wasim Shomar says. "I care about it deeply." (Geiger says Shomar is not a parishioner. Shomar admits he has not attended St. Jude much lately.)

When that motion came up April 11, the vote fell one short. The Shomars appealed, though, and last Thursday the city commission voted 4-0 to overrule the board.

So why the strong push from two powerful brothers who aren't even St. Jude parishioners? Geiger points out that plans for the Echo Brickell — Miami's tallest residential tower — were announced the same day the historic preservation board voted on St. Jude. "They are not zoned for 60 stories," he says of the Echo Brickell. "They are going to need air rights."

Under the Miami 21 zoning code, historically preserved buildings may be granted rights to the unused real estate above them. These "air rights" can then be sold to developers for use on nearby projects.

Shomar, who as chairman of Lynx Equity Group in Coral Gables has experience in real estate, insists he's not involved in the Echo Brickell or any other project that could benefit from St. Jude's air rights.

(Kevin Maloney, founder and CEO of Property Markets Group — the developer building the Echo Brickell — could not be reached for comment.)

Regardless of his motivations, St. Jude's leaders plan to keep fighting. "We were thrilled with this loss," St. Jude board member Suzanne Stonbely says. "Now we are free to appeal in a court of law."

 
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drstonbely
drstonbely

Only official statements of Beloved St Jude Melkite Chruch website of StJudeMiami.org in Espanol and English

Statement given at the meeting of the Miami Historical Designation Board

Rt. Rev. Damon Geiger

February 5, 2013

Let it be made clear that St. Jude Parish, as well as the Diocese to which it belongs, is not seeking historical designation for the church building.

The proposed designation would substantially infringe upon our religious freedom and violate our right to free speech, not to mention that it will diminish the value of our property as our property rights are taken away without being paid for it. There would be a substantial increase in operating expenses – insurance, bids for repairs, etc. and would provide appreciative burdensome hardships for the church.

According to the national and local criteria for historic designation, churches are normally exempt from being designated as historic protected buildings unless their primary significance is that of architecture or history.

Our property is a house of worship. This is the property’s primary significance. It is a Melkite Catholic Parish and a religious shrine to St. Jude.

Each day, St. Jude parish is open from 7:00 AM until at least 6:00 PM, sometimes later. The church is never empty, but always has people who come to pray, meditate, light candles and experience God. They come to invoke the aid of St. Jude. They seek to have their baptisms and weddings there because it is the shrine of St. Jude, a much loved saint. Over five thousand usually come on his feast day in October each year. They do not come as sight-seers for the beauty of the structure, as tourists nor students of architecture and history.

The primary significance of St. Jude Melkite Greek Catholic Church is that it is a shrine church, a house of God for worship and religious ritual. Because it is the shrine of St. Jude they support and patronize it. This became a reality when it ceased being the private chapel for the Roman Catholic Academy of the Assumption and became the Melkite Greek Catholic shrine of St. Jude in 1978. Before that time, people did not frequent it in any great numbers for any reason.

Not only is it primarily a shrine church, but it is a Melkite Greek Catholic parish church. There are presently only two Melkite Catholic parishes in Florida, and only 43 in the whole country. At present the parish membership is rapidly expanding. Our largest Sunday Divine Liturgy (6:00 PM in Spanish) is already overflowing the capacity of the church. We must have the freedom to expand the church building for our needs.

Further, as a Melkite Byzantine church, there are necessary adaptations to fit the building for the requirements of our liturgy and traditions. (e.g., baptistery, extended vestibule, dome, iconostasis, etc.) These are different from the Roman Rite history of the building’s use. (See the attached pages pointing out some differences in theological approach that lead to requirements for the buildings format). We are essentially like the Orthodox Churches, but are politically Catholic by being in communion with the Pope of Rome. The art and architecture are different. In thinking of the needs for St. Jude, one should consider St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, or St. George Antiochian Church rather than a typical Roman Rite structure.

We must have the freedom to expand the structure to adapt it to the requirements of our worship and to accommodate it to a larger congregation. Earlier attempts were begun to gradually make those changes, but lack of funds and other complications slowed the process. Now we are in a better position to do so. As we stand here today we face the potential of being stopped by the proposed designation.

drstonbely
drstonbely

given at the meeting of the Miami Historical Designation Board

Rt. Rev. Damon Geiger

February 5, 2013

Let it be made clear that St. Jude Parish, as well as the Diocese to which it belongs, is not seeking historical designation for the church building.

The proposed designation would substantially infringe upon our religious freedom and violate our right to free speech, not to mention that it will diminish the value of our property as our property rights are taken away without being paid for it. There would be a substantial increase in operating expenses – insurance, bids for repairs, etc. and would provide appreciative burdensome hardships for the church.

According to the national and local criteria for historic designation, churches are normally exempt from being designated as historic protected buildings unless their primary significance is that of architecture or history.

Our property is a house of worship. This is the property’s primary significance. It is a Melkite Catholic Parish and a religious shrine to St. Jude.

Each day, St. Jude parish is open from 7:00 AM until at least 6:00 PM, sometimes later. The church is never empty, but always has people who come to pray, meditate, light candles and experience God. They come to invoke the aid of St. Jude. They seek to have their baptisms and weddings there because it is the shrine of St. Jude, a much loved saint. Over five thousand usually come on his feast day in October each year. They do not come as sight-seers for the beauty of the structure, as tourists nor students of architecture and history.

The primary significance of St. Jude Melkite Greek Catholic Church is that it is a shrine church, a house of God for worship and religious ritual. Because it is the shrine of St. Jude they support and patronize it. This became a reality when it ceased being the private chapel for the Roman Catholic Academy of the Assumption and became the Melkite Greek Catholic shrine of St. Jude in 1978. Before that time, people did not frequent it in any great numbers for any reason.

Not only is it primarily a shrine church, but it is a Melkite Greek Catholic parish church. There are presently only two Melkite Catholic parishes in Florida, and only 43 in the whole country. At present the parish membership is rapidly expanding. Our largest Sunday Divine Liturgy (6:00 PM in Spanish) is already overflowing the capacity of the church. We must have the freedom to expand the church building for our needs.

Further, as a Melkite Byzantine church, there are necessary adaptations to fit the building for the requirements of our liturgy and traditions. (e.g., baptistery, extended vestibule, dome, iconostasis, etc.) These are different from the Roman Rite history of the building’s use. (See the attached pages pointing out some differences in theological approach that lead to requirements for the buildings format). We are essentially like the Orthodox Churches, but are politically Catholic by being in communion with the Pope of Rome. The art and architecture are different. In thinking of the needs for St. Jude, one should consider St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, or St. George Antiochian Church rather than a typical Roman Rite structure.

We must have the freedom to expand the structure to adapt it to the requirements of our worship and to accommodate it to a larger congregation. Earlier attempts were begun to gradually make those changes, but lack of funds and other complications slowed the process. Now we are in a better position to do so. As we stand here today we face the potential of being stopped by the proposed designation.

Official website of St Jude www.St JudeMiami.org

parishioner
parishioner

We all should thank the Shomar Brothers for their services to make our church a historic structure, and to prevent the selling of the church to a condo developer. Thank you Shomar.

 
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