A disappointing day at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Yesterday (Tuesday, March 14, 2006), the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to APPROVE Congregation Shearith Israel's (CSI's) proposed building at 8 W. 70th Street. More than three years after introducing plans for a 15-story building on this largely 4- to 5-story brownstone midblock (in what we all thought was a protected historic district and mandatory, low-rise contextual zoning district), CSI received a green light to erect a 10-story building (taller than any other building on the midblock, twice the height of what is allowed on this site). Next, the plan must be presented to the Board of Standards and Appeals in order to get the series of zoning exemptions (for height and setbacks) it needs before construction can proceed. Stay tuned for more information about the timeline for this phase of the process.
Is it a victory that the community was able to raise enough substantive issues to bring the building down from 15 stories to 10 (remember that 20 years ago the original proposal was 40+ stories cantilevered over the Individual Landmark Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue)? Yes and no. On the positive side, this project brought preservationists and other concerned citizens together, with few exceptions, from across the city to form a unified front against the (now sadly routine) practice of allowing overdevelopment-by-special-exemption in neighborhoods that everyone believed were protected. Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Park Slope, Greenwich Village, Chelsea - thank you all for standing strong.
On the negative side, this overwhelming public support for upholding the landmark and zoning protections didn't convince the LPC. So, although the building is smaller by a few stories, it will still set a precedent for overreaching development elsewhere in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District and throughout the city.
It's been a long road, with many miles yet to go. Next stop, Community Board 7's Land Use Committee - we'll keep you posted on where and when.