Brickell's St. Jude church designated historic by Miami City Commission

07/23/2013 6:02 PM

07/26/2013 8:02 AM

In a 4-0 vote at 2:40 a.m. Friday, the Miami City Commission agreed to designate a 66-year-old church surrounded by Brickell skyscrapers historic.

The vote came after more than eight hours of debate and public comments.

Advocates against the designation say they will likely appeal.

The city’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board voted 4-2 in April to designate St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church, 126 SE 15th Rd., as a historic building. But five of the board’s 10 members were needed for approval.

Four of the church’s parishioners asked the City Commission to approve the designation, which church leaders opposed.

The city’s historic-preservation staff opined in March that the church was eligible for the designation.

The staff report stated the previous owners of the church, the Sisters of the Assumption, “actively participated in” Operation Pedro Pan, a project that brought unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami. The sisters were also engaged in helping Carmelite Sisters after they had been expelled from Cuba during the revolution. The report also states the chapel is a unique example of Romanesque architecture in Miami.

But church leaders said the city staff report exaggerates the church’s role in Pedro Pan. "The designation report is filled with errors and is factually incorrect," said Suzanne Stonbely, a parish council member.

Church leaders also have said that historic status could lead to financial hardship for the church.

The pastor anticipates their insurance rates will triple while the land value will drop. They also worry about losing control of the ability to renovate or expand the church.

“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,” the Rt. Rev. Damon Geiger told the board in February.

The church’s historic-preservation consultant, retired University of Illinois architecture professor John Garner, said the architectural significance of the building has been overstated and that the building has a mishmash of styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

“It’s a rather ordinary building in a rather eclectic style,” Garner said Tuesday.

Geiger has said the church has no plans to sell the Brickell property. “The bishop did not have, does not have, nor will he have, plans to sell the parish,” Geiger said in April.

Wasim Shomar, one of the four parishioners who are asking the commission to approve historic designation, said he wasn’t trying to sow discord in the church. “All I want is to make sure that for generations to come our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren can enjoy this beautiful property,” he said.

Stonbely replied that the church does not consider Shomar a "parishioner."

Geiger said the designation would be “an unwarranted interference of the state in the church.”

“We’re willing to take this as far as the Supreme Court if necessary,” he said.

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