New York University’s plans for a 26-story dormitory on a site formerly owned by the Roman Catholic Church could potentially violate deed restrictions placed on the property by the Archdiocese of New York.
The restrictions prohibit future inhabitants – in this case, students – from offering advice on family planning or getting abortions, or pinning up posters to that effect.
The dorm for 700 students would be built on the current site of St. Ann’s Church and Rectory, on East 12th Street between Third and Fourth avenues. The deed signed in December 2004 between the Roman Catholic Church of St. Ann and the dorm’s developer, Hudson Companies, contains several restrictions on the property’s use, including a ban on "performing any abortions or providing any professional counseling or advice advocating abortions or family planning." It also prohibits signs or other advertising relating to abortions or family planning.
Moral deed restrictions are common in real estate transactions involving religious buildings, in part to avoid the embarrassment of a religious building being developed into something incongruous, such as a church on Sixth Avenue in Chelsea that was turned into a nightclub, once called the Limelight.
An attorney with Beckman, Lieberman & Barandes, Michael Beckman, said the restrictions most likely were designed to prevent the building from becoming an abortion clinic or home to an abortion advocacy group. But he said it is conceivable that regular dorm activities could come into conflict with the restrictions. Mr. Beckman said that, in his view, a sign posted in the dorm announcing a meeting that used the words "family planning" or "abortion" would violate the deed. He said a family-planning meeting or conference, or a class that advocated abortion over other options, would also potentially be in violation.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Swilling, helps clear things up.
Mr. Swilling would not say whether NYU would then be permitted to provide any professional counseling or advice advocating abortion, or any signage advertising it. He said the deed restrictions were common in real estate transactions involving the Archdiocese.
About par for diocesan spokesman – you are usually left more confused after they issue any kind of clarifying statement. If diocesan spokesman got to pick their own mottos it would be "Through a glass darkly."