clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Home Developer in Street Fight Over Plans for Former Catholic Retreat on Staten Island

The former Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House on Staten Island.
The former Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House on Staten Island.
Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House/Facebook

A developer is reviving a years-long fight to build over 160 homes at the former site of a beloved early 1900s Catholic retreat center on Staten Island — reigniting a bitter street fight with Borough President Jimmy Oddo.

South Shore developer Savo Brothers is suing the commissioners of the Board of Standards and Appeals in Manhattan Supreme Court, claiming the body blocked the project after caving to a political pressure campaign waged by Oddo.

The suit also cites the borough president’s issuance of street names for the Mount Manresa property as proof of his malice. Oddo named two of the streets Cupidity Drive and Avidita Place — both synonyms for greed. A third street is called Fourberie Lane, which means deception.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, speaks with MTA and union officials at the Eltingville Transit Center in August 2019.
Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

Mount Manresa, located near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, was the first Jesuit retreat center built in the United States. It was demolished seven years ago, spurring efforts by politicians and community organizers to prevent the sale of the Rosebank property.

But when a deal was finalized in 2014, elected officials and activists pivoted to preventing the planned development of 163 homes on the 15-acre site.

‘Overzealous’ Oddo

The lawsuit argues that letters from Oddo to BSA commissioners imploring them to deny the Savo Brothers’ plans unfairly sunk the developer.

It also says that the commissioners ruled before the Fire Department reviewed new applications indicating that the developer would satisfy the department’s request to install sprinklers in the homes.

But on Feb 25th, the BSA voted 5-0 to deny Savo Brothers a waiver to build the homes on private streets.

“The BSA’s determination ... was overwhelmingly marked by an arbitrary blindness to the facts, applicable law, and past precedent,” the developer’s June 8 petition states. “The decision was clearly impermissibly influenced by an overzealous borough president intent on defeating the applications and infringing on private property rights.”

Oddo declined to be interviewed about the lawsuit, but said in a statement that he believed BSA made the right move.

“The New York City Board of Standards and Appeals has rightly applied the law consistent with the legislative intent and plain language of the text. In doing so, they have stood up for the residents of this borough, both those living in surrounding neighborhoods and those would be buyers hoping to reside in these newly developed communities,” said Oddo in a statement to THE CITY.

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, Nicholas Paolucci, said it stands by the BSA’s decision.

“We will respond more fully to the court as we proceed in the litigation,” said Paolucci in a statement.

Living on a Prayer

For some longtime residents, the idea of the lush green space with 100-year-old trees being developed into dense townhouses with no public space is unfathomable.

Loretta Drogon, a founding member of the Committee to Save Mount Manresa, told THE CITY that community members are still opposed to any construction at the site of the former retreat center. The group previously tried several times to make the bucolic location a city landmark, but failed.

The former site of Mount Manresa, a 15-acre Catholic retreat center on Staten Island that operated for over a century, remains closed off, June 25, 2020.
The former site of Mount Manresa, a 15-acre Catholic retreat center on Staten Island that operated for over a century, remains closed off.
Clifford Michel/THE CITY

They’ve transitioned to pushing the city to purchase the land and turn it into a park. The group took its appeal to the mayor at a 2016 town hall meeting.

“That has been the wish of the committee since Mayor Bill de Blasio was public advocate,” said Drogon, whose father attended retreats at Manresa for 40 years.

An attorney for the Savo Brothers, Simon Rothkrug, didn’t return requests for comment.

The BSA’s decision disallowed a waiver to a state law regulating new construction on private streets. If it stands, the developer will have to get approval via the city’s often-contentious land use review process.

The Savo Brothers have been embroiled in previous legal battles over the property. The developer sued to have the street names changed, but an appeals court ruled in 2017 to let the monikers stand. The developer also took Oddo to court for not issuing house numbers for the planned homes.

SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS. SUPPORT NEW YORK.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York. Please consider joining us as a member today.

GOT A TIP?

We’re here to listen. Email tips@thecity.nyc or visit our tips page for other ways to share.

Sign up for the newsletter Get THE CITY Scoop

Sign up and get the latest stories from THE CITY delivered to you each morning