Congregation Shearith Israel: A Victory for Community Against Tower Proposal

From Landmark West!

First things first. Before you get the story on last night’s Community Board 7 (CB7) vote, you need to put down your poultry shears and open up your calendar. Mark down Tuesday, November 27, at 1:30 PM for the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) public hearing at 40 Rector Street, 9th Floor. This is the community’s first – and possibly only – opportunity to make its case before the BSA against Congregation Shearith Israel’s proposed 9-story, 105′-tall community house with 5 floors of luxury condominiums stacked on top.

Remember, the BSA is the final word on whether this project gets the 7 zoning variances it would need to get built. If BSA approves it, the only recourse is litigation, which is expensive and unpleasant. Don’t let it come to that – SHOW UP! In addition, an important way to speak up is by submitting an official “objection form” as soon as possible (see details at the end of this message).
Here’s the report… Last night, CB7’s Land Use Committee voted against 4 zoning variances that would have allowed Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) to break the height limits in the R8-B contextual zoning district protecting the brownstone scale of midblocks like West 70th Street. One board member called CSI’s application one of the most disingenuous proposals to be presented to the board in recent memory. No one but CSI’s lawyer and architect spoke in favor of the proposal. Yet, the Committee shrank from disapproving 3 other variances that would allow CSI to bulk out its new building in the rear yard, a disappointing and needless concession when CSI could clearly house all of its programmatic needs within an as-of-right building (i.e., without a single zoning variance).

Here’s what to do next:

First, nothing is as powerful as a room full of concerned citizens, so please make every effort to come to next Tuesday’s BSA hearing (November 27 at 1:30 PM, take the #1 train to Rector Street and walk west). Your presence does make a difference, even if you don’t plan to speak. Just be there to show you care.

Second, if you have not submitted an official BSA “objection form,” please print the attached partially completed form, fill it out as much as you can and fax a copy to LANDMARK WEST! at 212-875-0209 ASAP (it is not necessary to get it notarized). We’ll make sure it gets to BSA before Tuesday’s hearing. Below are some of the issues you might want to cite as reasons for your opposition to CSI’s proposal. Do it today!

Sample Objections:

I object to the proposed Congregation Shearith Israel project variances for the following reasons:
· The proposed 105’-tall, bulky building would alter the essential character of this mid-block defined by low-scale brownstones, cover up many lot-line and courtyard windows, cast gloomy shadows along West 70th Street, possibly introduce a commercial banquet facility to this residential block, and diminish adjacent property values.

· Congregation Shearith Israel could completely satisfy its programmatic needs by developing an as-of-right building, requiring no zoning variances.

· Congregation Shearith Israel’s site is no different than hundreds of other properties throughout the neighborhood where owners are required to follow the rules. If approved, a 105’-tall building on this site would set a precedent triggering a domino effect of new, out-of-scale development all over the Upper West Side and beyond.

· Congregation Shearith Israel has not taken full advantage of the space it already has to meet its goals. Instead, it is seeking variances to build a taller and bulkier building than is allowed under the zoning rules so that it can include luxury condos to pay for a new community facility for use by synagogue members. Neighbors should not be forced to pay the price for creating a new facility for the Congregation.

Posted Under: Institutional Expansion, Synagogues, Tower, Upper West Side

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