Unification Church plans house of worship in Tarrytown

The Journal News/August 7, 2003
By Hema Easley

Tarrytown -- The Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church is planning to build a church on a portion of its 35-acre Belvedere property in Tarrytown, a church official said this week.

The proposed house of worship, to be built on two lots totaling 7.6 acres, is the church's first attempt in recent years to expand its presence in Westchester County. The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, as the church is officially known, has been trying to dispose of several of its properties in recent years.

"We are researching the possibility of building a church facility," Eric Holt, comptroller of the Unification Church, said in a telephone interview Tuesday from his office in Manhattan.

He said the proposed building would be large enough to accommodate several hundred congregants and would be used for a variety of purposes, including worship, meetings and Sunday school.

Constructing the church would help Moon's group receive a tax exemption it has been seeking for the two lots from the town of Greenburgh, of which Tarrytown is a part. The church has a tax-exempt status from the federal government, but it must prove to individual municipalities that it is using its property for religious purposes to avoid paying taxes.

The Greenburgh Town Board has approved tax exemptions for several Unification Church properties within its municipal limits in the past. However, in a July 2 resolution, the Town Board ruled that the Unification Church would continue to be taxed for the two vacant lots on the Belvedere property - assessed at $104,500 with $40,000 in annual taxes - unless it filed a building permit for a new church complex by June 1, 2004.

"They have asked for tax exemptions for this piece and other properties," said Greenburgh town Assessor Gennaro Iagallo. "They will only get the tax exemption if they begin the building permit process."

The Unification Church has yet to seek a building permit from Greenburgh, Iagallo said. However, preliminary drawings and architectural studies have already been made for the church, which will have a contemporary design, Holt said. He did not say when the church would seek a building permit for the house of worship, which will be located located on Route 9 just south of the Lyndhurst historic mansion.

The church hasn't yet sought a tax exemption from Tarrytown, village Treasurer James Hart said.

There are a few large, single-family homes across from the church's Route 9 property. One neighbor, Laura Eastham, said yesterday that she had no objections to a church being built as long as it didn't cause traffic problems near her home.

"They already have so many people coming in and out that it wouldn't bother me," said Eastham, who lives at Belvedere Estates in Tarrytown. "That's if they don't park here."

The Unification Church was founded by Moon in 1954 in South Korea and now claims between 2 million and 3 million members in 191 countries. It once owned properties totaling 400 acres in Westchester and in the 1970s even planned a university locally. Those plans never materialized - the church controls the University of Bridgeport, Conn. - and in recent years the church has been looking for new ways to use its properties or dispose of them. The church is currently negotiating with Greenburgh to sell 200 acres of rolling woodlands in East Irvington.

A religious center for Unification Church worshippers, the West Rock Family Church, is still maintained at Moon's Belvedere estate in Tarrytown, and the East Garden estate in Irvington also is active as a part-time residence for Moon.

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