Posted May 6, 2022 7:07 AM by West Side Rag
By Carol Tannenhauser
Community Board 7’s Preservation Committee voted Thursday night to reject West Park Presbyterian Church’s request to remove the historic designation of the 12-year-old church: Eight members voted to reject the request; only one member supported it, while another abstained.
The committee’s recommendation is then presented to the full community council on June 7 and then to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is expected to decide the fate of the church this summer.
The church has requested the removal of the historic designation, which would free it to sell the property to a developer who plans to demolish the building and replace it with a 19-story condominium.
About 200 people joined the Zoom meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night, which lasted more than four hours. They first heard the presentation of the church and its team of experts, detailing the disastrous state of the building and the expected costs to restore it, followed by comments and questions from the committee and the community.
The presentation of the church is here.
During the hours of discussion, with comments from more than 40 participants, only a few supported the church’s request. Many who spoke described the church as irresponsible or negligent in the management of the building.
“It hasn’t been a historic landmark for very long and I really struggle to understand how it could have been so badly run in such a short time,” said Avery Ryan, who lives next to the church, calling the difficulties she claimed “self-inflicted”.
Ryan was one of several speakers to blast the local rectory – the church’s governing body – and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) itself, “for allowing a landlord to mismanage [the church] out of its landmark status. It could not have happened, she said, “without complete abdication and complacency.”
Several speakers suggested that if the building was eventually torn down and replaced with a condominium, none of the proceeds should go to the Presbytery. “I really hate that there’s financial gain and historic status thrown away so quickly,” Ryan concluded.
“Rewarding a homeowner who participates in a negligent demolition will set a precedent,” said Sean Khorsandi, executive director of the conservative non-profit group Landmark West.
“I just feel extremely sad and discouraged about the current situation,” said Melissa Elstein of the West 80s Neighborhood Association, capturing the sentiments of many witnesses. “It’s such a tragedy. I just hope we can preserve it.
City Council member Gale Brewer, who was in attendance, insisted preservation is possible, saying one of the obstacles to raising the millions of dollars needed to restore the building is that people don’t want to. give to a church. “It should belong to a non-profit organization,” she said. “That’s what the presbytery should be doing, because once a nonprofit owns it, I can allocate the city’s money. I cannot allocate money to a church.
Brewer said she thinks Upper West Side foundations and residents would “easily allocate money to a culturally-focused nonprofit. If the Presbytery sold it to a nonprofit, we would end up with millions of dollars to renovate it,” she insisted. “The idea that someone is going to tear this down and replace it with condos is beyond reprehensible, and I will do everything I can to preserve this building.”
Thursday’s vote and resolution was the first step in a process to decide the fate of the building.
After hearing the church’s presentation and public comments, CB7 Preservation Co-Chair Michelle Parker said, “Plaintiff has failed to meet the extremely heavy burden of proof required.”
“Tonight’s discussion revealed options and opportunities that have not been explored and would be forever ruled out if demolition were permitted,” added CB7 member Mark Diller.
Several committee members called it the toughest decision of their careers, but in the end, members of the CB7 Preservation Committee voted overwhelmingly to deny West Park Presbyterian Church the “exemption.” for difficulties” they claimed. The committee’s resolution, which will be drafted after the meeting, will include the words: “CB7 requests the Landmarks Preservation Commission to disapprove the application, as presented.”
The full board will consider the resolution at its next meeting on June 7. Its recommendation will then go to the Monuments Commission, which will hear more public comment before taking a final vote.