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Attorney: Church Wants Ark To Go

June 27, 1987

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The pastor of a small church wants an unfinished, four-story, 125-ton wooden ark sitting in a corner of the churchyard to be hauled away or demolished, an attorney says.

The Humanity Baptist Church, and its pastor, the Rev. J.W. Brown, never welcomed the presence of the huge ark and never considered its builder, Kea Tawana, to be a church tenant, says attorney Robert M. Read.

Read appeared in Essex County Superior Court Friday, asking Judge Harry A. Margolis to give the church more time to answer a complaint filed by Tawana’s attorney, Fred Zemel.

The complaint is part of a continuing legal battle between Tawana and the city of Newark, which has deemed the ark an eyesore and a hazard, and wants to tear it down.

Zemel contends that Brown was an enthusiastic supporter of Tawana’s work and only ″changed his tune″ under pressure from city officials. Zemel also claimed the ark-builder and Brown had an unwritten landlord-tenant agreement.

After a brief hearing Friday, Margolis found in favor of the church, allowing Read to file a late response to the complaint. Margolis found that Zemel had not properly delivered the complaint to the pastor.

Tawana took the city to court in April when officials threatened to dismantle the ark. Margolis granted Tawana a temporary restraining order that barred the vessel’s demolition.

Now Zemel is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the city or the church from destroying the ark.

The church was named in Zemel’s complaint because it owns the land upon which the ark is built. In his response, Read said Tawana had been aked by the church to remove the ark and on a number of occasions had promised to do so.

Read also said Brown willingly signed a consent form allowing the city to demolish the ark. Zemel said Brown was coerced into signing th consent after city officials threatened to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status.

Tawana, who began building the ark five years ago before the church was constructed, helped build the church and until recently had been paid $100 per month to take care of and guard the church grounds, Zemel said.

Initially, Tawana planned to airlift the ark to a port and live in it on the water.

However, the ark-builder recently suggested turning the vacant lots around the ark into a new city-owned park, featuring a baseball diamond and playground, and having the ark house a museum and community center.

City officials have said the stark structure is a deterrent to redevelopment in the area. Tawana has completed only a towering frame for the vessel. Tawana said it is designed to resemble biblical depictions of Noah’s Ark.

Some residents and artists from around the nation have supported the ark, which is built from materials salvaged from demolished buildings. A half-dozen museum curators said in letters to city and state officials it is a unique symbol of the city’s rebirth.

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