There was a lot of screaming.
It was difficult for many speakers to stay on topic at a Landmarks Preservation Commission’s public hearing at Hunter College Tuesday afternoon.
The commission held a three-hour session on 45-47 Park Place, the site of a potential mosque and Muslim community center, which has stirred a good measure of controversy with the families of 9/11 victims, among others. Many of the hundred or so attendees—who were overwhelmingly against the mosque—criticized the project for being disrespectful and offensive, while others, including some politicians, cast the critics as racists and bigots. This even though the stated purpose of the hearing was not to discuss the mosque at all, but rather to debate the historical value of the site.
“I’m well aware that the proposed landmark designation of this building has become part of a larger discussion about the use of the property,” Landmarks chair Bob Tierney said in his opening remarks. “Issues regarding how this building or site is used are not relevant to this proceeding.”
Though many had little interest in the landmark status as an end, the owners focused on this , arguing that the site did not deserve recognition. “We think it falls short,” said Shelly Friedman, counsel for the owner. “It’s not sufficient for a building to share generic attributes [of landmark status],” he said.
“They are neither exemplary, nor unique … nor historically significant,” he argued.
The building is being considered for designation because it is a prominent example of the store and loft structures that dominated the drygoods warehouse districts of Lower Manhattan, with an Italian Renaissance palazzo style.
The discussion, however, quickly derailed into rants about the mosque, with both sides interrupting each other with yells and squeals.
“I am ashamed to be an American today,” said Rafique Kathwari, a Muslim American supporting the mosque and inciting chants from the audience for him to go home. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Family members of victims got very emotional in the spotlight too, facing cries of bigotry from the minority in the audience.
“I’m here to represent my son,” said Sally Regenhard, who lost her son to the attacks and has been a vocal spokesperson for victims’ families. “I’m here to ask you to follow your integrity. Please, do not fold to the political forces.”
Nineteen-year-old Sierra Rose, who attended a protest against the mosque recently said in her testimony, “I’m very tolerant of all people,” adding, “Do the victims of 9/11 really need to hear the chants five times a day?”
Said another opponent, Andrea Quinn, “To deprive this building of landmark status is to allow for a citadel of Islamic supremacy in its place.”
When Roxanne Delgado, a Bronx resident, got to the mic, she told the commission that she was very upset with the discussion thus far: “I’m so disappointed with so much racism in this place.”
But many opponents emphasized that it was not intolerance motivating them.
Rosaleen Tallon-DaRos, who urged that the mosque not be put on that site and whose brother was a 9/11 victim, told The Observer that she is not racist, but rather genuinely concerned about the welfare of New York City. “I have nothing against Muslims,” she said. “This is about the safety of the city.”
Once the safety concerns are addressed, she said, “Then we can all ‘kumbaya’ after.”