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St. Gabriel’s Chapel: Livin’ on a prayer

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | St. Gabriel’s Chapel. Owner Richard Hogan plans to have it demolished.

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | St. Gabriel’s Chapel. Owner Richard Hogan plans to have it demolished.

“You’re under an erroneous idea that there’s something you can do about it.”

The speaker was Planning Board member Emory Breiner at Tuesday’s Town Board work session, challenging the board on any effort to stop the demolition of St. Gabriel’s Chapel.

“In some eyes, it’s just a building,” Councilman Jim Colligan responded. “In my eyes it’s not just a building,”

Richard Hogan, the owner of the 25-acre St. Gabriel’s property, where the chapel — built in 1938 — stands, may have underestimated how people feel about seeing the chapel demolished, Mr. Colligan said. Many constituents have told him they’re upset at the proposed destruction.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, while agreeing with Mr. Breiner that the town had no legal right to stop the planned demolition, said he thought it was worth a conversation with Mr. Hogan to let him know what the chapel means to many Islanders.

Mr. Hogan’s Pandion Acquisitions bought the mostly undeveloped land on Coecles Harbor last April from the Passionists, a Catholic Religious order, for $15.1 million. He plans to subdivide and develop the property. Last summer he said the now de-consecrated chapel would be saved.

Meeting with the Planning Board in July, Mr. Hogan said: “Nobody in my family would be comfortable knocking down a church.”

The plan then was to move it to another location on the property.

But when movers arrived prepared for the job, they determined the building was too flimsy and wouldn’t survive the move, Mr. Breiner said.

“It would be cheaper to just build a new one,” he added.

It was the same message Mr. Hogan’s attorney, William Fleming, had brought to the Planning Board last week.

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Planning Board member Emory Breiner at Tuesday's Town Board work session.

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Planning Board member Emory Breiner at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

The 78-year-old chapel isn’t on state or federal registers of historic places, but its place in the Shelter Island community is etched in the lives and memories of many — by Catholics who may have attended retreats, youth center activities and services there, and non-Catholics who embraced it for its beauty.

Mr. Hogan has said that if left standing, the chapel would simply deteriorate and become an eyesore on the property. “When we studied the project more closely, we determined that the cost of [moving it] would be significantly greater than rebuilding the structure,” Mr. Hogan wrote in an email to Mr. Colligan last week.

An attempt to move the existing chapel would cause “quite a bit of disruption as we’d need to form an earthen ramp for the structure to move along,” he wrote.

“I want a second opinion,” said resident John Kerr, who has questioned other aspects of the project from its first introduction last summer.

According to Mr. Colligan, he’s not alone.

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