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protection from the incursion of an inappropriate condominum tower at the Shearith Israel Synagogue site.

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Land Use Committee
Richard Asche, Chairperson

September 21, 2005

Parks & Preservation Committee, Lenore Norman, Chairperson
Joint with
Land Use Committee, Richard Asche, Chairperson


8 West 70th Street, Congregation Shearith Israel, (Central Park West-Columbus Avenue.) Application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness for construction of an 8-story building with 2 additional penthouse floors, with 4 floors above grade for school/community house purposes and four full floors plus two penthouses for residential uses. 

Introduction:  Shelly Friedman of Friedman & Gotbaum, LLP

Application filed with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for a Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) for a commercial and mixed used building.  This is a new application, having had a substantial amount of discussion with the LPC.  Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) is eager to begin the public process and dialogue with the community. 

The major changes in the application that was presented previously include:

·         Significantly reduced in size in bulk and height.

·         Last time 15 stories and 3 penthouse and set back.

·         Now the building 10 stories – 8 floors at the street wall with 3 levels of setback penthouses.

·         In height, the building is between R10A and R8B:

R10A limit is 185 feet; this proposal is lower at 124 feet.

R8B  limit is 75 feet; this proposal is higher at 124 feet.

·         Need to transfer floor area from R10A to R8B (i.e. across a zoning boundary, as well as from the landmark to another parcel).

·         Previously a 74-7-11; no longer the case.

Right now the application before the LPC is for a C of A.  Later the project will be submitted to the Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) for transfer of bulk; variances to increase street wall, height and setback; rear-yard requirements; lot coverage. These zoning and land use issues will come before the Community Board in later months.  The new scheme is now 10 stories (8 street wall + 2-story penthouse set back from the street).

Sam White of Platt Byard Dovell White LLP

The architectural presentation began with a general “tour” of the building

·         To codify the different spaces, green represents spaces to be used solely for the synagogue and the blue represents the spaces allocated for the residence. A comparison with previous scheme showed the changes in the massing on the site.

·         Ground floor is built over the full lot of 60 x 100 feet. It is planned to assist rational use and access to the landmark portion of the site.

·         Floors 2,3,4 are allocated for synagogue operation and uses that include: classrooms, school lobby and toilets.  There is an opportunity for a day school tenant during the week when space is not used by Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) itself.

·         Floors 5-8 are for residential apartments.  Synagogue staff may occupy one floor.

·         Penthouse floors are 4,500 sq ft and include a single and a duplex apartment.

·         The upper penthouse is at a height of 116 feet.

·         The bulkhead at the roof and mechanical equipment are at a height of 124 feet.

·         There is a smaller elevator bulkhead.  HVAC condensers and fans use dry coolers; therefore HVAC bulkhead reduced.

·         Basement level is slightly deeper in the new proposal.

·         The basic allocation of space (in percentages) is as follows:

o        42%     Residential

o        58%     Synagogue use

-         11      Synagogue administrative offices

-         11.8    Archives storage

-         9.9      Archives administration

-         13.1    Educational

-         12.2    Sanctuary needs.

There followed a description of the street context of West 70th Street:

·         A drawing of the building on West 70th Street shows the alignment of the new building with the adjacent apartment house to the West.

·         The principal entrance to the synagogue will be via a split-level lobby in the new building on West 70th Street, where there is already an existing entrance into the landmark that is not ADA compliant.

·         The Central Park West (CPW) façade, in true elevation, shows the new building can be seen from above the 5th floor.  There was a comment that only the upper portion of the new building can be seen from the street level of CPW, owing to the size and shape of the existing roof.

·         Regarding the placement of the new building, Mr. White explained that there is also “shift” in scale between the existing building and the new building.  This is what inspired the façade treatment.

·         The synagogue is of limestone, there is a slight set back moving westward to the new building and a vertical transition of material in layers to terracotta to the adjacent apartment house, which is faced with limestone and brick.

Ray Dovell, of Platt Byard Dovell & White presented the presented the detail of the new façade:

·         Described entrances locations – the synagogue, service and residential entrances on West 70th Street.

·         Explained the context of townhouses and the lower apartment house with classical composition at CPW, which requires a “different response”.

·         PBDW felt that the new design should speak to physical context and the proposed uses.  Therefore, the material and scale should also address the landmark. 

·         Previous scheme had a 10-foot set back; this has changed.  This issue is felt to be the resolution of the two scales. The façade moves left to right from small scale to larger scale of the classical building.

·         Materials are Indiana limestone but with different jointing. 

·         Detail of entry – grillage at the base is an oiled bronze with a shallow canopy also of bronze making a direct connection to the screening of the adjacent synagogue door. 

·         The residence will also have a bronze entrance door. 

·         A terracotta masonry screen, level with the adjacent building face, provides both layering and transition between the classical and the apartment buildings.

·         An approximately 2-foot set back from the terracotta is the location of the glass and limestone façade.

Mr. Dovell explained the LPC was interested in continuing a limestone band at the top of the building and was also promoting limestone to ‘separate” the two uses.  Regarding other materials and colors:

·         Penthouses have painted aluminum panels in a light grey with glass.

·         HVAC and bulkhead above are also screened with aluminum panels and railings.

·         Painted metal and glass will also be light grey in color. 

·         A metal pergola exists at the south elevation will have limestone returning around the corner with brick along the south side in buff brick with “punched” windows.

·         Materials – terracotta used as a rain screen made of 8” x 24” sized units that are clipped onto the façade Indiana buff limestone.

·         The windows will have grey metal aluminum for panels and window frames.

Mr. Dovell showed an animated diagram to illustrate how the various layers and components of the West 70th Street façade fit together. In terms of the views of the building from the street, Mr. Dovell explained that the view from CPW straight on view will never actually be seen. Only the corners at the north and south will be seen.  The Indiana limestone will follow the “architecture of the synagogue”. 

Shelly Friedman briefly explained the complex zoning and the necessity for a two-part approval process with the LPC approval process preceding the zoning.

Mr. Friedman explained that tonight was about the view of the CPW façade – the issue is one of appropriateness; that there may be a difference of opinion about the application and that this building was an “Avenue Site” [CPW] and should respond to an “Avenue [type] Building” on CPW; that the other view is that this is a “Mid-block Site” and that it should not be so high.  He reported that the staff of the LPC is evenly divided on this issue – and that it is neither avenue nor midblock, but rather a “Transition Site” and both view points need to be considered.  The LPC thinking is that the height of 18 West 70th Street is a benchmark of the height for this transition.  The issue for the design team was to be responsive to this and reflect the transition height identified by the LPC.

With regard to the zoning:

·         The site is a split lot site -- R10A and R8B.  Transfer of bulk across a zoning district and boundary is “as of right” in this case.

·         The community building will be torn down, and

·         A zoning bulk diagram was shown that described what is allowable, but not be built, because of the landmark.

·         This application does not exceed certain maximums due to averaging under provisions of the zoning resolution. 

With regard to variances, Mr. Friedman offered the following:

·         As to the street wall regulations in R8B, this is 75 feet and will require a variance to permit 124 feet as designed and proposed.  R10 allows 185 feet so the project is nowhere near the maximum height. 

·         The project will require a height and set back waivers. 

·         Community main floor use typically a 30-ft rear yard, they will request a rear yard waiver solely on the institutional needs for 2nd ,3rd and  4th floors for 20-ft rear yard.

The process will be to go to Board of Standards & Appeals for approvals if the LPC grants the C of A.

Regarding uses, Mr. Friedman stated there are two schools:

·         Jewish Day School rents the space during school hours on the weekdays.

·         CSI’s Hebrew School operates after regular school hours and on weekends. The space to be built is to serve the educational in institutional use of CSI’s own school, and only coincidentally of the tenant school.

In conclusion, Mr. Friedman offered to provide briefings between now and the LPC hearing to any community party that wants to set up an appointment. The LPC has not calendared the project.  It was submitted to meet the September hearing but it has been pushed off until late October.

Lenore Norman thanked the presenters and Richard Asche moved the sample board of materials to the front so that other attendees can see. There followed general questions from members of the Landmarks and Land Use Committees:

 Q: When 74-7-11 was considered previously monies would be applied to the restoration of the landmark.  What about the landmark now?

A: Shelly Friedman - The commitment is still there but by nature a lack of acceptance of the 74-7-11, it is now a private commitment. There remains a need to preserve the archives.  All of the work outlined previously for the landmark building will continue but it will be a private commitment.

Q: Sheldon Fine - how will ADA access be achieved?

A: Sam White - A grade level entrance with a split-level internal access will be made to reach the synagogue with its own elevators.   There will be ADA compliant bathrooms as well as access to the classrooms above via the new elevators.

Q: Lenore Norman - Questions about the façade – decision to use the terra cotta was based on what precedent? Concept?

A: Ray Dovell - The buildings are quite eclectic on this street in the use of materials --red, ochre, buff.  In this case not trying to contrast with the synagogue, lessening the transition from limestone to terra cotta to reflect the brick of the apartment house to the west.

Q: Lenore Norman - Is there some sort of zoning reason why you did not distinguish uses in the building?

A: Shelly Friedman - The building is designed to take on a certain uniformity.  Ray Dovell - the use is neither a split of 50% above and 50% below so a horizontal separation does not work historically to divide the façade – therefore the separation was from left to right, vertically, with a limestone to terra cotta transition is suggested by the layering of the façade.

Q: Klari Neuwelt -   Not sure I understand why the limestone frame on the façade is recessed back from the building line, can you explain? You mentioned a canopy, what is the material and extent over the sidewalk?

A: Ray Dovell – There is a recess of 2’-6” between the terracotta to limestone and glass.

One is a residential canopy at a depth of 5 ft.; the other is a shallower canopy at the entrance of about 4 ft.

Q: Steve Strauss - A question of security for residences.  Are you coming back to CB7 for planters and barriers at the sidewalk? This might be before the Transportation Committee?

A: Shelly Friedman- This congregation has never emblazoned the building with symbols of faith and it will not be present here.  This does not have bollards out front for security -- a Jewish house of faith is not expressed externally.  Not an issue at the moment but present thinking it is it is proud not to be surrounded by bollards.

Q: CB7 - What is the rationale for bands of windows?

A: Ray Dovell - Banded windows are found throughout the district --a deco conceit with the glass turning the corner makes a gesture to the synagogue.

Lenore Norman then turned to the public for their questions and comments, asking that slips be filled out and submitted for all of those who wished to speak.

Q: State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried - Given the history of the synagogue with noise from existing ventilation equipment on the building, what is planned for the new rooftop elements?

A:  Sam White - The existing building has “fully depreciated equipment.” The new and replacement systems and equipment will be in compliance with current NYC building codes.

State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried - Existing equipment does not seem to comply and makes life miserable at the moment, this is not a vote of confidence.  Regarding the presentation there is an awful lot about this project that makes me skeptical.  2/3 of what zoning will allow but not within street wall and set back…description of the building as a community facility, no one thinks of this as a community facility… regarding the process of outreach… that there would be some sense to reach out to the community while the design is being developed …sooner than this time frame if the Community Board had been reached out to before tonight…or at least saying that we are going to be coming to the CB 7 and the LPC in four weeks and would like to sit down and discuss the project with you.  It all adds up to coming to this presentation with a lack of credibility on the applicant’s part.

Kate Wood, Landmark West!  As you are all aware, the proposal is adjacent to an individual landmark, which encapsulates the high avenue and mid-block site.  The designation does not refer to a transition site.  If there is a choice, we believe that this should comply with height of the landmark.  Project should be scrutinized as a precedent can be set with similar soft sites for contextual zoning.  This type of change can significantly affect development of the West Side.  Also we need more information -- Sight lines and set back diagrams from CPW and the side street, and view from Central Park.  Not enough information to make a statement about the building.  We have not been given and opportunity to learn about the project.

Q: Anne  Farley - Did not see a service entrance, what is the plan for the service entrance? Is there an outside developer involved at this time for this project?

A: Sam White: Between synagogue entrance and the residential entrance with a main floor service room with its own elevator that goes down for the below grade synagogue spaces.

A: Shelly Friedman - No developer in this application.  It is a project of the synagogue. This project is too small to attract a developer.

Q: Deborah Kopinsky, Board President of 101 CPW - This project previously received unanimous opposition. We did not have adequate time to review the project and don’t want to engage in knee jerk opposition…requested deferring any decision and permit 101 to review.

Batya Lewton, Coalition for a Livable West Side - Finds the building unattractive.

Michael Marsh, community resident - Last time the architects wanted to build they will say anything…we have suffered so much and all of the rest of it…and now they are saying something different.  So they are now the good guys because they are asking for less?

Richard Klugman, 155 West 70th Street - Façade appears jarring and not in relation to the synagogue, no arches, everything is sharp angles, modern all glass it does not seem to fit.

Esme Berg, Member of the Congregation – The project is essential to the neighborhood, it has been there for many years and wants to continue to bring grace and beauty in the neighborhood…that the new building will upgrade the neighborhood with residential.  

Harriet Ainesch, Member of the Congregation – The synagogue has traditionally drawn from the neighborhood and the 101 CPW residents, a community that has evolved and provides for the younger and senior members and for educational activities at the synagogue for the community.  Previously the building did not consider youth programs, seniors, lectures and other things.  This building is going to provide expanded use and space.  Seniors need the elevators and accessible restroom facilities.

Rita Rodin, Member of the Congregation - Book, blood drives among other activities …the new building will be important for the members and the community.  The height is the same as 18 West 70th Street and deserves the support of the community.

David Nathan, Member of the Congregation - Proud with what we are trying to do for congregation, community and neighbors.

Peter Neustadter, President of the Congregation – Thanked the architects for compressing so much in to the space and stated that they have tried to solve most of the problems of the congregation, which is bursting at the seams.  We have lots of archives not accessible to scholars and neighbors. There is no place for special events such as bat/bar mitzvah celebrations and this new building can provide this space.  We invite you to meet with us to learn more, have a tour of the synagogue and have first hand knowledge of the site.

John Ellis, architect and community resident - Asked for clarification of the role of the residential component of the building.  I have heard a lot of concern about ADA and services for the synagogue, but want to be clear about the role of the residential portion.  Is the residential component there to generate money?   The entire proposed program can fit within the height line of the synagogue.

LX Farbman, community resident - CB7’s job is to be an instrument of local government and serve the welfare of the community.  The history of this and previous presentations have been lots of talk without substance…calling any part of this building for the community is nonsense.

A:  Steve Straus gave a general explanation of the uses that are covered by the term “community facility” as defined by the Zoning Resolution.

Allen Sugarman, 17 West 70th Street – This is an overwhelming project and there is a lot of information to understand.  Requested electronic version of this presentation.  Also stated that given the amount of drawings, there are no views from adjacent properties, no views from Central Park, no diagrams relating to shadows and light diagrams.  Has there been any consideration for trees and street plantings?

Q:  Olive Freud, Committee for Environmentally Sound Development - How does light and air affect the school within project?  How do taxes work with two uses – profit and non-profit?

A: Sam White - Referred to plans and set backs to show how light and air reaches the building at the south elevation.  Shelley Friedman stated that for the residences are condos there will be no tax break.

Q: Pia Franken Berg, community resident - I face the rear of my building and look out across the HVAC, I will loose my view and will be boxed in.  The lower 4 floors are for the synagogue and will be used for the school, what will happen to the light and air for those on the lower floors of adjacent buildings?  Why do you need the residential component?  It must be for income.   If you want to have the synagogue building and are having problems with the size and appearance, why do you need the residence?

George Bulow, Member of the Congregation - This project captures the spirit, materials, bulk and integrates visually into the community.  There are setbacks to accommodate adjacent buildings and he hope that these contributions are thing anyone would be proud of.

Q: Pat Lieberman, 101 CPW - What is the total height of the building? Why the distinction between base and penthouses?

A: Sam White - 124’-6”.  It is really 12 stories, but from the perception and view from the street, the building has set backs.  The pedestrian will see the height from a different perspective.

Pat Lieberman - Yes, but the perspective is different for the pedestrian than from a neighbor.  No one wants you to not to improve or fix the existing building, but I do agree that we need to have more information.

Arnold Weiss, 91 CPW – If there is a problem with the amount of archives move and store them off-site.  I believe you can do the ADA within the site; you don’t need this big building.

With no further comments and questions, Ms. Norman asked for comments from the Community Board members:

Barbara Adler: I understand the need for the new program, but I have a problem with the use of materials and agree that the building is completely non-contextual.  I would prefer all glass. I cannot vote for this project.

Steve Strauss:  Why does this congregation feel they need to go with a residential new building to do what they want to do?

A:  Shelley Friedman – The congregation is burdened with a magnificent structure so project is both a necessity and opportunity.  They have both an existing building as well an empty lot.  I invite you to go onto the website to look at archives and education opportunities.  We believe that replacement of the community house provides for both.  The LPC has heard both sides.  We want to continue the discussion with this third proposal.  Not less appropriate.  Looking for the mark that meets LPC standards of appropriateness.

Hope Cohen:  There are complications with this application - looking at the landmark first and then the zoning.  The building envelope is part of this discussion but the appearance is what is before us.  The LPC application must be reviewed first.  While we do not agree with this process, the discussion about the project is not ending here tonight.  Many of the issues that the community is voicing will come before us again in the coming months as part of the review of the land use applications. Although I am tempted to talk about those issues, I will limit myself to comment on the building appearance only.  The building will look a lot better without the terracotta.

Klari Neuwelt: On the design, I am assuming that we are going to see an 8 story building and this is okay, but the design of façade is so inappropriate.  Although the new building is not another synagogue, there should be some consistencies -- looking for a cornice line, double hung windows, single street level plane, one single façade plane, get rid of the strip windows.  I am not persuaded that “moderne” or “art deco” is anywhere near this building.  A turn of the century building would be better.

I have a theoretical question.  If the congregation could build whatever they wanted could it be all community facility? Or even a bigger building?

A: Shelly Friedman - The allowable community facility area in R8B and R10 A are the same by entitlement. You can use averaging.  Mixed use is not a revolutionary concept to this type of project.

D. Maria Watson:

I thought the building was rather nice.

Lenore Norman:  Sight lines – are there any? Perhaps you might want to review other structures on the block and in general not make such an eyesore.

Page Cowley: The architects are competent and have worked hard to find a solution.  The façade facing CPW is less problematic as it recognizes the symmetry of the classical building and although a complicated matrix of geometry is generally better.  The 70th Street façade is too complicated and the materials confuse the transition.  Lastly the south and rear walls need to be revisited.

Richard Asche: Normally as a member of Land Use we try not to comment on façade and landmark issues, however, we need to look at the aesthetics and decide if it is contextual with anything in the world…I admire the congregation and respect needs for synagogue.  

 Hope Cohen:  Stated again the difficulties of this process.

A resolution to disapprove the LPC application was adopted.

WHEREAS, Community Board 7 / Manhattan (MCB7) is required to review landmark and land use applications serially/separately for a mixed-used building (community facility and residential) being proposed by Congregation Shearith Israel, adjacent to its landmark Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue structure and within the Central Park West Historic District – and  therefore must review the application to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for a Certificate of Appropriateness for building design/appearance before reviewing the applications to the NYC Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) for variances that would make the proposed building’s size and shape possible; and

WHEREAS, MCB7 recognizes the need of Congregation Shearith Israel for additional space for its educational and other programming and unique archives, and to provide ADA accessibility to its historic Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue structure; and

WHEREAS, LPC has instructed the applicant that the proposed building’s location is a ‘transition’ site between avenue and midblock and therefore should be no higher than 18 West 70th Street to its immediate west; and

WHEREAS, the applicant’s architects have worked diligently to follow LPC’s guidance in reducing the height and bulk of the building from the 15-story building with 3 setback penthouses previously proposed to an 8-story building with 2 additional floors of setback penthouses; and

WHEREAS, the West 70th Street (northern) façade of the proposed building does not relate either to the landmark Synagogue, 18 West 70th Street to the west, nor to any other building in the vicinity; and

WHEREAS, the use of materials is inappropriate (especially the buff terra cotta overlaid on the West 70th Street façade); and

WHEREAS, the recessed glass wall and trip windows on the West 70th Street façade do not relate to the adjacent buildings or anything on the block or within the Central Park West Historic District; and

WHEREAS, the entrances to both the congregational/community and residential portions of the proposed building appear insignificant on the façade in relation to their function; and

WHEREAS, the southern elevation has been designed as the building’s ‘backside’ with a brick façade, adding to the confusing and disjointed use of materials; and

WHEREAS, the applicant has not provided sightlines from the public way, Central Park, and the neighboring buildings;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Community Board 7 / Manhattan disapproves the design presented for a Certificate of Appropriateness, principally based on the problems with the façade(s); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT MCB7 applauds the applicant’s architects for their efforts to find a solution to a difficult architectural problem and finds the proposed building’s height and bulk acceptable and its symmetry pleasing; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT MCB7 urges the applicant’s architects to revisit the design of the north and south elevations, ideally producing a building of consequence visible from all directions and with a consistent and harmonious use of materials on all elevations; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT MCB7 urges the applicant’s architects to review the entrances (including the service entrance) for placement, treatment, appearance, and scale, with particular consideration of the building’s significance as a community structure; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT MCB7 requests that sightlines from the public way, Central Park, and the neighboring buildings be provided to it and all other interested parties; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT MCB7 once again objects to the bifurcated review process and urges all relevant City agencies to find a way to allow applicants to present a unified application for all land use, zoning, landmark, and other approvals required for a building, so that important issues of public policy, use, bulk, height, design, etc. can be considered in a coherent and holistic way.

Joint Parks & Preservation and Land Use Committees: 10-0-0-0.  Board Members: 2-0-0-0.