Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What's Going On At Congregation Shearith Israel?

Congregation Shearith Israel Update

Wednesday, August 15, 2007, came and went. The significance? That was the deadline imposed by the Board of Standards and Appeals in their June 15, 2007, letter to Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI). "The Board desires to process applications on a timely basis and requests that applicants notify the Board if they are unable to make a complete submission within sixty (60) days. Failure to respond in a timely manner could lead to the dismissal of the application for lack of prosecution."

As of today, almost a full week after the deadline passed, CSI has yet to submit materials addressing any of the 47 objections raised by the Board in June. (Remember, CSI is asking for 8 variances exempting their proposed 124-foot-tall building from the area's contextual, brownstone-scale "R8-B" zoning. Much of the proposal's noncompliance results from CSI's desire to stack luxury apartments on top of a new community house.)

It is our understanding that the Board will not act immediately to dismiss CSI's application. The process may well drag on for many weeks, perhaps months. Yet, CSI's failure to meet the August 15 deadline, not to mention the fact that it took them over a year to file with the Board after getting the Landmarks Preservation Commission's design approval back in March 2006, suggests that CSI knows just how far they are from making a case that their project merits exemption from the zoning laws designed to protect the low-rise character of West 70th Street and hundreds of other blocks on the Upper West Side and thousands throughout the city.

And so, we continue to wait...and watch.

We are not alone. On a parallel track in Brooklyn, Cobble Hill neighbors are "fighting for their skies" against a developer seeking City Planning Commission approval for a new building that would break the brownstone area's 50-foot height limit for the first time ever. (As with CSI, the Landmarks Commission approved the developer's too-tall proposal.) Preservation advocate and current NYC Art Commissioner Otis Pratt Pearsall wrote in a recent letter to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, "If, our 40 year unbroken history notwithstanding, one developer on some rationale or another is now permitted an exception, can anyone believe that henceforth every developer will not also seek his own exception?...Please, make no mistake. The dam will be broken." This just in... BP Markowitz said "No" to the proposed Brooklyn building's height!

To learn more about the Brooklyn proposal, click
here. For background on Congregation Shearith Israel, click here.

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