Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Congregation Shearith Israel

Landmarks Commission Close to Final Vote on Congregation Shearith Israel Proposal

Thanks to those of you who attended today's public meeting and/or expressed your concern through letters and emails to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) regarding Congregation Shearith Israel's proposal to construct a 124' tall building (the equivalent of 12 stories) at 8 West 70th Street, adjacent to the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue and in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.

The LPC did not vote today.* However, the commissioners offered detailed feedback on several aspects of the design, including the height of the penthouses set back above the approximately 95' streetwall. While their comments were generally supportive of the overall bulk of the building, more than one commissioner referred to the stacked penthouse levels (which would make the building the tallest building on the mostly brownstone midblock of West 70th Street) as inappropriate "wedding cake" tiers that should be minimized or eliminated. The result would be what equals a 9- to 10-story building, still basically 3 to 4 stories taller than the contextual, low-rise zoning allows on this site.

The Congregation argues that its design is for a "transitional" building (a concept they claim is from the LPC itself). But, there is no transitional provision in either the LPC's 1990 historic district report or the 1984 contextual zoning for the area. In fact, the historic district designation and zoning were created precisely to keep this kind of development from happening. The adjacent 9-story streetwall building at 18 West 70th Street, built in 1927 before zoning and historic district protection (before there was even a Landmarks Law), is an anomaly. Its height would never be allowed today, and it cannot be used to justify any more out-of-scale buildings on the block.

*The record will remain open for a limited time. LPC Chair Robert Tierney committed to distribute to each commissioner copies of community responses to the current proposal. So, please continue to let the LPC know where you stand on this inappropriate "transitional" building. Email:
comments@lpc.nyc.gov; Fax: 212-669-7955; Address: 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, NYC 10007.

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