Legion of Christ withdraws New Castle Seminary Plan

By Elizabeth Ganga
The Journal News July 13, 2008


NEW CASTLE – The Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Roman Catholic order with a worldwide network of schools and universities, has withdrawn an application dating to 1995 for a seminary for 465 students, faculty and staff on Armonk Road.

The letter to the town of New Castle announcing the withdrawal of the special permit application did not state the reason for abandoning the long-standing plans but said the order reserves the right to submit a new application in the future. In the meantime the Legion of Christ, as it is also known, is pressing ahead with an application filed last year to expand the activities permitted on its property, which hosts retreats and marriage preparation classes.

Jay Dunlap, a spokesman for the Legion, also did not give a detailed reason for the withdrawal of the seminary application. He said the order wanted to focus on the retreat center. The property was developed for that use and is well suited to it, he said.

It seems, at this point, more practical to be focusing on the retreat center uses, Dunlap said. He said he was not aware of any longer-term plans.

The Zoning Board of Appeals, which had jurisdiction over the special permit, had given the Legion a July 1 deadline to begin moving the seminary application along or abandon it because the approval process had been suspended since April 2006.

The application had, we thought, become very stale, said David Levine, the former chairman of the Zoning Board.

Neighbors, who have long opposed the seminary plans and complained in the past that the retreat center was used more than the current permit allows, said they were thrilled the seminary application was withdrawn.

From the start, we thought this was an untenable proposal, said Sharon Greene, a neighbor who has long followed its twists through the town approval process.

Steve Krongard, another neighbor on Tripp Street, said he was concerned the expansion would have dramatically changed the neighborhood.

It’s a very quiet street, he said. It’s a very dark street. At night you can see the stars.

But even with the withdrawal of the larger proposal, the town still needs to look hard at the application for expanded events to understand exactly how the property will be used, Greene said.

I just think it needs to be brought out in the open what they’re doing there, she said.

The Legion bought the property at 773 Armonk Road in 1994 from the Unification Church. It was previously owned by the Sisters of the Cenacle and before that by theater producer and songwriter Billy Rose.

A permit for a seminary for up to 100 students was granted in 1994 and the next year the Legion applied for the expanded seminary for 465 students and staff on the 98-acre property.

In 1998, the Legion was granted a permit for retreats limiting the number of visitors and events, intended to be in place until the seminary was up and running. But for years the Legion has only intermittently pursued the seminary application, at one point substituting a plan for a center to train missionary women that was later withdrawn.

The existing buildings – the old mansion, living quarters built by the sisters and a chapel – total about 70,000 square feet of space. The seminary plan would have added about 315,000 square feet in a dormitory, recreation building, classrooms and other buildings.

Next door in Mount Pleasant, the Legion has plans to build a university for 2,000 students and faculty on 165 acres that is moving through approvals after hearings earlier this year on its environmental impact.

Reach Elizabeth Ganga at eganga@lohud.com or 914-666-6482.

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