More info needed for church conversion News

| 07 Dec 2015 | 03:51

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals asked developers attached to the condo conversion of a historic church on the Upper West Side to come back to with more information on their proposal.

Built in 1903, the church, at 361 Central Park West and 96th Street, was designed by Carrere and Hastings and was most recently the home of the Crenshaw Christian Center. 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 36 units, including a penthouse.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the architects’ plan in March after several revisions were requested in a series of hearings that began last year. Community Board 7 signed off in April.

The hearing before the BSA was called to discuss six zoning variance requests that would allow the developers leeway with zoning law in order to convert the church for residential use. Local residents opposed to the conversion, who have organized as the Central Park West Neighbors Association, recently hired attorney Michael Hiller to review the requests.

To obtain the variances, the developers are required to prove that compliance with zoning regulations would impose such a financial burden that they’re in need of relief from certain rules. In a report submitted to the BSA, Hiller claims the developer has failed to demonstrate such financial hardship and their requests should be denied.

“The developer’s application is all hat and no cattle,” said Hiller in an interview. “It doesn’t come close to meeting the legal requirements for a variance. And this landmark building – this magnificent church - is just too historically significant to get this wrong. We intend to oppose this project until it’s defeated.”

The BSA asked the developers for more documentation to prove their claim of financial hardship.

According to Kate Wood, executive director of the preservation group Landmark West, which is opposed to the conversion, the next BSA hearing to discuss the variance requests will be Jan. 12. She said the developers should have a revised application available for review later in December.

“Supporters of preserving the landmark are organized, committed, and informed,” said Wood. “The facts are on our side.”

Other preservation groups, such as the New York Landmarks Conservancy, support the conversion plan as it will ultimately preserve the church, which is in need of repair.

Brunner and Shapiro could not be reached for comment.