'Mormon moment' pops up in Harlem land spat
Published: January 10, 2012 11:52AM
Updated: January 10, 2012 11:56AM

In this so-called "Mormon moment," even a minor real estate flap in Harlem makes it into The New York Times. And the story even refers to Mitt Romney – “a Mormon,” as the article notes — but only due to the publicity for the Utah-based faith his presidential campaign has generated.

At issue is the former home of the LDS Church's Harlem congregation, which The Times describes as “a crumbling, windowless, one-story building on 129th Street between Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard and Fifth Avenue and the grassy vacant lot beside it.”

In 2005, the church erected a spanking new building around the corner but retained ownership of its earlier site. Now Mormons are ready to sell that to a residential developer and neighbors are balking. They want to keep the rare open space as a community garden, with the “ramshakle” building for neighborhood parties.

“The Mormons find themselves torn between two charitable missions — the global social-welfare projects that go hand in hand with its energetic proselytizing, which proceeds from the sale will support,” writes Anne Barnard, “and the needs of Harlem, where the mixed-race congregation has achieved a hard-won measure of acceptance despite the church’s fraught history with African-Americans, who were barred from the church’s ministry until 1978.”

Even some local Mormons want to see the church retain the garden and structure.

Wayne Collier, a Harlem congregation member, told the paper “he and others had proposed turning the land into a “welfare center,” with a cannery, storehouse and employment center — all institutions the church currently has scattered from Inwood to New Jersey.”

Apparently, the church's Salt Lake City bureaucracy rejected that proposal.

An aside: The Times article also notes that Mormons "shun alcohol and caffeine."

That's half right.

Devout Latter-day Saints do not drink booze, but they are free to consume caffeine. While coffee and tea are off-limits under the faith's health code, other caffeinated products — from Diet Coke to hot chocolate — are fair game.

Peggy Fletcher Stack