Friday, October 5, 2007

Yellow Alert for Shearith Israel: Upcoming CB7 Land Use Meeting

After more than a year of watching and waiting, Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) is back with its controversial plan to develop 5 stories of luxury condos on top of a new community house at 8 West 70th Street. Community Board 7's Land Use Committee will hold a public meeting to discuss (and possibly vote on) this application on Wednesday, October 17 (starting after 7 PM, more specific time tba). The location is Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 West 83rd Street (between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue).

Between the New-York Historical Society on the West Side, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Ramaz School on the East Side, uptown and downtown (and, as the old song goes, all around the town), the issue of tax-exempt nonprofit institutions exploiting their sites as "development opportunities" is more timely than ever. That's why YOUR participation in CB7's October 17 meeting is absolutely essential! This is about more than one institution's attempt to develop its real estate on the back of the surrounding community. This is about breaking down the West Side's historically strong resistance to inappropriate development that, block by block, will erode the architectural character and integrity of our city's historic districts.

Discrepancies in the BSA Application: On June 15, 2007, the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) issued its notice of objections to the CSI application, identifying 48 discrepancies, misrepresentations and failures on the part of the applicant to provide information necessary to enable the Board to evaluate the proposed new building for a variance. On September 10, 2007 (nearly one month past the 60-day dismissal deadline required by the Board), CSI submitted its revised application. Based on evaluation of the latest application, it continues its failures to respond to the BSA objections and to provide clear information on crucial issues which are significant to any determination of hardship excusing the applicant from compliance with the zoning regulations governing sound development. As resubmitted, CSI’s application remains egregiously incomplete. For documentation of the application and planning analysis by Barnacle Planning Studio, click here and visit

While CSI could construct an appropriate, 6-story community house facility "as of right" (i.e., following groundrules for sound development), it needs no fewer than 8 special variances from the BSA to build a 105'-tall structure, including condos, more than twice as high as the brownstones that define this historic mid-block of West 70th Street, protected as part of an R8-B contextual zoning district AND as part of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, both created decades ago to preserve the low-rise, human-scale character of our neighborhood's mid-blocks. The site is also immediately adjacent to one of New York's most important Individual Landmarks, Congregation Shearith Israel, aka the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue (Brunner & Tryon, 1897), one of the handful of low-rise, Classical-style institutional buildings that play a key role in the Central Park West skyline.
Don't let Congregation Shearith Israel be yet another domino to fall! Join us at Community Board 7 on October 17!

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