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 Commissioner Gratz Opposing Project

March 14, 2006. Following is the statement of LPC Commissioner Gratz which was read into the record in opposition to the proposal.

This project has come a very long way from the time it would have so dramatically exceeded the height limits of the historic district causing historic districts all over the city to be in jeopardy. I thank the synagogue and its architects for their responsiveness so far to the requests of the Commission and for exhibiting respect for the historic fabric of the neighborhood.

Clearly this is an enormous improvement and will still add generously to the already generous space that the synagogue enjoys.

Given the distance the project has come, I wish I could enthusiastically endorse the current plan. In fact, I was looking forward to doing so for any number of reasons. Shearith Israel is such a significant landmark in the history of New York City and in the history of Sephardic Jews in America. And I have a personal attachment to this synagogue, since both my daughters were Bat Mitzvah there years ago.

But there is one remaining knotty problem to this proposal. The so-called penthouse – even at one story -- is actually an extra floor with modest setbacks. According to the Buildings Department, a penthouse does not count in the height of a building if it occupies less than a third of the floor area of the roof. This penthouse is 2,870 feet or 64% of the roof area of 4,480 square feet. Thus the penthouse would need to be 1,493 feet to legally qualify as a penthouse.

The question then is, does the Landmarks Commission have a different definition for penthouse than the Buildings Department? If so, what is it? Is it the top floor of any building, as long as it has setbacks? To date, there is a standing penthouse definition that this particular proposal does not meet. Should Landmarks establish a new one for current and future use to be applied here first, I might be persuaded to accept that new definition and vote approval of the project as currently configured. Short of that occurrence, I regretfully vote no

Roberta Brandes Gratz