Dedicated to the preservation of New York City's historic landmarked West 70th Street and
protection from the incursion of an inappropriate condominum tower at the Shearith Israel Synagogue site.

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Statement of Landmark West November 4, 2005.

Congregation Shearith Israel Real Estate Shell Game Act III

On Tuesday, November 15 (time tba), the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on an application to construct the equivalent of a 12-story building on West 70th Street, adjacent to the Landmark Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue (Congregation Shearith Israel) in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.  The hearing will take place at the Municipal Building 1 Centre St 9th Floor (By Subway: #2, #3 to Park Place; #4, #5, #6 to City Hall).  ... more

This is the latest round in a decades-long effort to protect this landmark, predominantly low-rise block from out-of-scale development that would set a negative precedent for historic neighborhoods throughout the city.  In the last go-round (2002-2003), scores of civic organizations, community groups and individuals from all across the city testified against this project.  Ultimately, the Landmarks Commission sent the plan back to the drawing board.
But its backand raises many of the exact same issues that caused the previous plan to be defeated.  Here's more (and stay tuned for further details) :

The LPCs own 1990 Historic District Designation Report as well as the 1984 Contextual Zoning Report both conclude that, with but a few exceptions, the Upper West Side is defined by tall buildings on avenues and by low buildings on side-street midblocks.

Congregation Shearith Israel's magnificent building (designed by Brunner & Tryon, 1896-97) is a protected Individual Landmark  located in the hard-won Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.  It abuts a 5-story community house and vacant lot that, for the past 20 years, the Congregation has sought to exploit for real estate development.

The Congregation now seeks a Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) from the Landmarks Commission (LPC) and variances from the Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) to build beyond what is permitted for its site.

The Congregations proposal for a 12-story mixed-use building (taller than any other building on the West 70th Street midblock) will irreparably harm the balanced land use regulatory policy that helped make the Upper West Side one of Americas leading urban neighborhoods. 

The Congregations site is 83% in the midblock zoning district, which limits new buildings to a maximum height of 6 stories.  This keeps with the traditional rowhouse scale of the areas midblocks and is the appropriate height for any new development at this site.

The Congregation argues that its design is for a transitional building.  There is no transitional provision in either the LPCs report or the zoning.  The adjacent 9-story 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. It cannot justify any more out-of-scale buildings on the block.

A tax-free religious institution must not be allowed to maximize profits by destroying the character of its neighborhood.  The Congregation can meet all of its true needs with a building that conforms to the zoning and historic district context.  Luxury penthouse apartments are not part of its mission.

Granting special rights to the Congregation would create a terrible precedent leading to similar demands by other non-profit institutions, severely compromising the case for landmark neighborhood preservation, especially along Central Park West.