Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Circulated June 25, 2008
Congregation Shearith Israel: Ready the Floodgates

No Decision on Congregation Shearith Israel, But Ready the Floodgates
Yesterday, Tuesday, June 24, the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) voted to close the hearing on Congregation Shearith Israel’s application for 7 zoning variances to construct 5 floors of luxury condominiums on top of a new community house on the brownstone midblock of West 70th Street (adjacent to the Landmark Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District).
This means that the BSA is poised to make its decision, but only after giving Shearith Israel yet one more chance to clarify and substantiate the record in support of its application – another “do-over”. YOU HAVE ONE LAST CHANCE TO BE HEARD! Send BSA the message, loud and clear, that the public expects them to stand up and defend the laws that keep our communities whole. See below for contact information and specific points that you can make. And while you’re at it, please contact NYS Senator Tom Duane and NYS Assembly Member Richard Gottfried to thank them for their stalwart support on this issue.
Quite frankly, it doesn’t look promising for those of us (in every neighborhood, every borough, all throughout the city) who care about zoning, landmarks and other sound land-use laws. And things seem to be looking up for developers (all too often non-profits) eager to capitalize on loosened zoning regulations. If the BSA approves Shearith Israel’s application, it will be open season for non-profits seeking to finance themselves through out-of-scale development. All along Central Park West, there are as many as 10 potential development sites (New-York Historical Society included) watching this application closely, waiting to see if this “canary in the mine” lives or dies.
Here’s some advice: wander into Central Park for a concert or play one summer night soon. Look at the sweep of the Central Park West skyline silhouetted against the sunset. Then write your letter. Remember, this is why we fight – so that we don’t continue to lose the treasures that make life in New York City not just tolerable but uplifting. Imagine.
Mail/fax your letters to:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
Fax: 212-788-2460

Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan
Chair, NYC Board of Standards and Appeals
40 Rector Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10006
Fax: 212-788-8769

Hon. Gale A. Brewer
NY City Council
250 Broadway
New York, NY 10007
Fax: 212-513-7717

Hon. Scott Stringer
Manhattan Borough President
1 Centre Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Fax: 212-669-4900

Please say “Thank you!” to:

Hon. Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senate

Hon. Richard N. Gottfried
New York State Assembly

And please send copies of your letters to LANDMARK WEST! at 212-875-0209 (fax) or landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org.

Some points to keep in mind:

  • Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) has made it clear in its papers and previous testimony that the purpose of the luxury condos is to pay for the new community house. This is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. Approving these 7 variances would open the floodgates for other non-profit institutions seeking zoning exemption to finance their programs and benefit their own members, essentially transferring wealth from the surrounding community to themselves.
  • There is nothing unusual or physically unique about the Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) site. Approving variances in this case sends the message that landmark designation, contextual zoning and a property owner’s non-profit (already tax-exempt) status constitute “hardships” that justify exemption from the land-use laws that apply to everyone else.

  • CSI is crying “hardship” because it says it cannot satisfy its programmatic needs AND build 5 floors of luxury condominiums on the same midblock site (i.e., have its cake and eat it too) without getting zoning variances. If that isn’t self-created “hardship” we don’t know what is.

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