Testimony of LANDMARK WEST!
Before the Board of Standards & Appeals
6-10 West 70th Street, Congregation Shearith Israel (74-07-BZ)
October 14, 2016
LANDMARK WEST! is a not-for-profit community organization committed to the preservation of the architectural heritage of the Upper West Side.
LW! has been working with attorney David Rosenberg on land-use issues like this for at least 15 years. He doesn’t use words certain words lightly. Words like: unethical, disingenuous, fraudulent, “spin”, unclean hands, bad faith. Yet, those are the words he uses to describe this application for special treatment under the Board’s rules. (Click here to read attorney David Rosenberg’s submission to BSA.)
Let’s be clear: Congregation Shearith Israel is asking you to shortcut all of your usual procedures, to ignore all of the obvious gaps in the record, and to approve plans for a building that is substantially different from the one approved eight years ago based on a stale, eight-year-old analysis of the five findings. If you grant this request, by the time this building is built, that analysis will be twelve years old.
The fact is, Congregation Shearith Israel wants what it wants, when it wants it. That’s not how hardship works.
An institution facing “hardship” does not delay a project allegedly critical to its “programmatic needs” for nearly a decade. An institution facing “hardship” does not try to dupe the Department of Buildings into approving a building that contains mostly offices instead of the classrooms it claimed to need so desperately, then brush it off on the record as a “mistake”. An institution facing hardship does not hire the city’s top-grossing lobbyist to push its case to decisionmakers.
These are the actions of an institution that is seeking to maximize profit on its site by inflating its community house “program” to elevate five floors of luxury condominium space head and shoulders above its neighbors—to build what amounts to a tower on a low-scale brownstone midblock. Eight years ago, you didn’t want to believe Shearith Israel was deliberately misleading you about its community house when what it really wanted was condos. Why would anyone want to believe that of an upstanding, historic religious institution?
In this go-round, you have given them multiple opportunities to clarify their case for special treatment, most recently with a letter dated August 12, 2016, stating 40 comments and questions about the application. Shearith Israel ignored or evaded at least 50% of those comments and questions.
We were here earlier this year, facing many of the same issues concerning, in that case, a for-profit developer’s desire to convert the former First Church of Christ, Scientist, into condominiums. A different set of facts (though the economic consultant and the lobbyist were the same). But your decision to disapprove that application came down to one thing: credibility.
The Board’s ability to approve variances rests entirely on its assessment of the Applicant’s credibility and the credence it is able to give the applicant’s representation of the facts. The credibility of this Applicant is seriously in question. We urge you to deny this application.