Church Conversion Plan Rejected Again

| 19 Feb 2015 | 03:37

Plans for the condo-conversion of a century old church on the Upper West Side were again shot down by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, who while supporting the residential repurposing of the church, maintained their position that more information is needed for them to approve major changes to the church’s Central Park West façade.

The church, at 361 Central Park West and 96th Street, was designed by Carrere and Hastings and dates back to 1903. It was purchased last summer by developers Ira Shapiro and Joseph Brunner, who hired GKV Architects and Li Saltzman Architects to devise a plan that would create about 30 units, including a penthouse.

At issue is the applicant’s plan to carve out six new windows on the side of the church that faces Central Park West. Architects have argued that the windows are necessary to cast light into the individual units, but were criticized by the LPC at a December hearing for not providing floor plans that prove the windows are necessary.

“Why should we as a commission consider this application if there’s no indication of necessity?” said commissioner Michael Goldblum at the December hearing.

The website New York YIMBY indicated that architects on the project again declined to present floor plans that showed why the windows are necessary at a hearing last week, which led to the commission’s second denial and set the stage for another hearing on the plan.

But the commission softened its stance on other controversial aspects of the plan, like a proposal to remove all depictions of religious scenes from the church’s stained glass windows. At the December hearing, commissioners told the applicant they shouldn’t assume potential buyers would be turned off by religious stained glass windows, and very well might regard such a thing as a unique feature of the space.

According to YIMBY, commissioners at last week’s hearing seemed to approve of a plan to remove a religious-themed stained glass window on the Central Park West façade as long as architects maintained the arch shape of its frame.

The applicant abandoned a plan for a skylight in the new proposal, but is sticking with a plan to build a penthouse almost four feet taller than the existing structure, which the LPC does not seem to object to, according to YIMBY.

New components of the proposal call for windows to be created on the 96th Street and 97th Street side.

YIMBY reported that the LPC’s hearing was open to the public but closed to public comment, as it was the second such hearing on the same application. Unless a proposal is drastically different from one hearing to the next, LPC rules say that public comment is only allowed at the first hearing before the commission.

Kate Wood, the newly appointed executive director for Landmark West, who took over from longtime executive director Arlene Simon late last year, protested the policy by staging a walkout.

Landmark West is opposed to the condo-conversion of the church while other preservation groups, like the New York Landmarks Conservancy, support the plan and say the church is in need of proper stewardship if it’s to survive.