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Click here for LW's July 1, 2003, testimony against the previous application to construct a 15-story building in this location. Also read the statement by Norman Marcus, former General Counsel of the New York City Department of City Planning.


Testimony of LANDMARK WEST!

Before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, November 15, 2005


LANDMARK WEST! is a non-profit community organization committed to the preservation of the architectural heritage of the Upper West Side.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to testify. However, I believe I speak for most people here in saying that I am troubled to be testifying, once again, about a project that so many of us in the preservation community feel is thoroughly inappropriate.

The proposed design has not been meaningfully changed since this Commission rejected it only two years ago. At 124 feet tall – the equivalent of 12 stories – it remains nearly twice the height of most of the buildings on West 70 th Street, including the individually landmarked Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue directly to the east of the site and the brownstone rowhouses that define the scale of this and most other midblocks in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. In fact, if approved, this building would be the single tallest midblock structure built in the historic district since its designation in 1990 or indeed since the creation of the low-rise, contextual R8B zoning district in 1984.

It is this precedent-setting potential that most concerned the majority of the commissioners back in 2003. You rightly noted that the language in both the historic district and zoning reports called out the contrast between the tall buildings that define the avenues and the low, brownstone-scale buildings that define the midblocks. You also identified the likelihood of other institutions taking advantage of whatever height allowance was made at this site – a “slippery slope” that would make it difficult for the Commission to deny similar proposals from synagogues, churches, museums and other non-profits throughout the West Side and beyond. Several of you stated that this site calls for a design that reads as a midblock building.

A “Transitional” Building Would Set a Dangerous Precedent for This and Other Historic Districts: Instead, the applicant offers the Commission and the community a “transitional” building. In other words, the proposal is to create a new, go-between building type that supposedly relates to both the midblock and the avenue. What a gift to the developers’ repertoire! This logic would create a whole new “transitional” zone along Central Park West, one lot in from the corner, where tall buildings abut low buildings.

This would fundamentally change the character of the Upper West Side. And if it can happen here, it can happen in countless other historic districts across the city. It is this recognition that has brought so many community and civic organizations out to testify. The list of groups and individuals that continue to oppose this project reads like a comprehensive inventory of activists who have worked so hard for so long to preserve our city.

Conclusion: We all know that the purpose of landmark designation is not to freeze our city in time. This site cries out for new development, and what better way than by building a community facility that enhances the mission of Congregation Shearith Israel. In opposing the proposal before us, we simply argue that such development can and should take place without inflicting irreparable damage to the rest of the historic district and without setting a negative precedent for the rest of the city.

We urge you to, once again, turn back this application and work with the Congregation to come up with a low-scale design that is appropriate for this midblock setting.

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