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Debate between saving NYC church or constructing luxurious condos turns bitter


The congregation is able to let go of its church. The neighborhood isn’t.

A debate over whether or not to protect a once-stately Higher West Facet church or to raze it to make manner for a luxurious apartment constructing has erupted into lawsuits, hourslong hearings and accusations of greed and neglect.

As soon as the epicenter of social activism within the neighborhood, the situation of the West Park Presbyterian Church has devolved to the purpose the place scaffolding surrounds its outer partitions and indicators of decay are painfully evident.

The congregation argues the church is past restore. They need the constructing stripped of its landmark standing and bought to a developer for greater than $30 million, to get replaced by a 19-story luxurious condo constructing.

On the opposite aspect of the controversy is a coalition that features the nonprofit that presently leases house within the church, group members, lawmakers and preservationists. They argue it’s a historic constructing with enormous significance to the neighborhood and the town that has been allowed to deteriorate.

“It’s been willful neglect,” stated Michael Hiller, a preservationist lawyer representing the nonprofit Heart for Park West, an arts and cultural heart, in a lawsuit.

“They wish to get out of their lease obligation in order that they will destroy the constructing and reap the $33 million financial windfall from its sale to a luxurious apartment developer.”

The saga of the church, on the nook of W. 86th St. and Amsterdam Ave. subsequent to the enduring Barney Greengrass deli, has been unfolding for months. It has been marked by fierce debate with many twists and turns, the most recent being a proposal from the present occupant of the church to purchase it from the congregation.

However the church has its personal plans.

The remaining dozen congregants of West Park Presbyterian Church say the church is way past restore, with their estimate on how a lot repairs would price at $50 million. Their proposed deal would promote the church to developer Alchemy Properties for $33 million. This, they are saying, would reserve it from expensive constructing rehab prices which have long been a problem for the church.

The plan for the plot of land was detailed in a Landmarks Preservation Fee assembly within the spring. Along with 19 tales of luxurious condos, the house would reserve a ten,000-square-foot house for a group heart for the congregation to make use of or lease out.

Congregants say the constructing’s landmark standing has been a burden they by no means even needed within the first place. The congregation voted in 2010 towards the church’s landmark standing. Now, the church is in even worse form, with fewer members and restricted funds.

The once-stately facade is crumbling. There are rising cracks within the ceiling. For the previous 20 years, scaffolding has shrouded the constructing from street-level view.

Marsha Flowers is one in all round only a dozen remaining congregants. She’s been a member since 1994. She’s seen the scaffolding go up across the exterior, the constructing crumble and the congregation dwindle. She’s had sufficient — she doesn’t see a possible approach to restore it.

“This constructing and the maintenance of this constructing has actually price us the church,” Flowers stated. “Our efforts to maintain it protected and maintain it compliant and maintain it insured have taken all the funds that we’ve got for these functions, have taken all the cash that we’ve got. And the focus of our power and our focus and our efforts have been on sustaining this constructing and never on what a church’s function is for, which is worship and mission.”

The roof of the West Park Presbyterian Church is pictured Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 in Manhattan, New York.

She stated the state of the church is one purpose the congregation has dwindled through the years. With a brand new house, she’s hopeful that the church’s power might be channeled into arts programming, group actions and worship.

“It’s not one thing that we did frivolously. And we knew that it was going to be controversial, however there was no different various,” Flowers stated.

It’s by no means actually been concerning the bodily house, she stated. It’s the individuals, not the constructing, who’ve pushed change. That legacy, she stated, is what’s vital right here — and promoting the church whereas remaining in the neighborhood is a approach to protect that.

However the constructing gained’t go with out a struggle.

Dozens of others, together with individuals taking a stand at group board conferences, preservationists and native officers, say the congregation has failed the church by letting it degrade on their watch.

“This church is gorgeous,” stated Gale Brewer, who represents the Higher West Facet in Metropolis Council. “The pink stone, the bell tower is past stunning. And that’s what we would like. We don’t need an unpleasant new constructing. … We’re very, very intent on attempting to save lots of this church.”

West Park Presbyterian is taken into account by preservationists to be among the best examples of a Romanesque Revival-style spiritual construction in New York. It was constructed within the Eighties and has a daring pink sandstone exterior and broad, round-arched openings. A bell tower on the nook of the constructing reaches upward, making a “monumental and distinguished presence alongside these streets,” the hs fee wrote in 2010, when the constructing was first landmarked.

Within the twentieth century, the congregation stood up for civil rights, nuclear disarmament, same-sex marriage and homosexual rights. It spoke out towards the Vietnam battle and was the unique web site of God’s Love We Ship, a company established to ship meals to AIDS sufferers.

Hiller, the lawyer representing the Heart for Park West, which has occupied the house since 2017, stated that for all these causes, the church is value preserving. The middle estimates rehab prices to be a lot decrease than the church does — round $10 million.

Hiller blamed the congregation for the church’s rundown state.

“This isn’t a circumstance through which they’ve been unable to keep up the asset,” Hiller stated. “They’ve chosen to not keep the asset. They’re now utilizing the circumstances that they themselves created with the intention to facilitate a transaction by which the landmark is demolished and destroyed and changed with luxurious housing.”

The West Park Presbyterian Church Manhattan.

Hiller rejected the concept there are a scarcity of viable options for preserving the church. By means of fund-raising and personal donations, the middle has put collectively a proposal they are saying has a complete potential worth of $27 million. That would come with a $3.5 million cost for the constructing itself, a dedication to speculate $10 million in renovations and about $13 million within the sale of air rights to a close-by constructing to guard towards future improvement.

A spokesman for the church famous the greater than 60 Division of Buildings open violations, including that it could be irresponsible for the church to promote it to anybody, together with the middle, with out a safer plan in place to revive the constructing.

Sean Khorsandi, the manager director of the preservationist nonprofit group Landmark West, criticized the congregation.

“We’ve already given this constructing the very best degree of safety we will, and the proprietor says, ‘It’s rubbish. Let’s throw it away,’” Khorsandi stated.

“The present situation of the church is a product of their very own mismanagement. Plain and easy,” Khorsandi stated. ” … It’s a case the place they’ve deferred and ignored upkeep for therefore a few years. Now, they wish to be rewarded for it saying it’s too costly to repair. However all alongside, it was all the time their accountability.”

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Khorsandi stated the church ought to’ve requested for assist.

“They by no means requested for the group’s enter … it’s simply unlucky that they didn’t wish to work with the group, and it began with this nuclear choice.”

Tower of the West Park Presbyterian Church.

To go forward with demolition, the church wants the Landmarks Preservation Fee to unravel the layers of safety the constructing has as an official landmark.

The fee would additionally must reverse the constructing’s landmark standing — one thing that’s solely occurred a handful of instances within the metropolis’s historical past. The church would have additionally to invalidate the middle’s lease, to evict them from the constructing so the builders may come via.

In an try to present the middle the boot to make room for brand new improvement, the church has filed a lawsuit to evict the nonprofit.

The following time the church will go earlier than the Landmarks Preservation Fee has but to be scheduled, though it’s anticipated someday earlier than the 12 months’s finish.

“If the West Park Presbyterian Church goes, the remainder of them are going to fall,” Hiller stated. “That is the frontline battle within the effort to proceed landmark preservation in New York. … The minute we promote out to builders is the minute New York turns into simply one other place to dwell.”

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