No Word Yet on West-Park Church

After a public meeting, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission said review of materials would continue until after Labor Day

| 20 Jul 2022 | 06:24

Following a July 19 Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting to discuss West-Park Presbyterian Church, no decisions will be made until after Labor Day.

Deliberations are progressing slowly in the battle over West-Park Church, a nearly 140-year-old landmark structure. In a public meeting on Tuesday held by the LPC, which will have the final say in the decision to either demolish or conserve the church, Chair of the LPC Sarah Carroll said that the commission will not be taking any final action in the immediate future. Instead, the group will continue to review material submitted by the congregation and testimonies from the public.

The LPC is also in the process of engaging an outside expert and an engineering consultant to assist in its review of the church’s application. The experts will present their findings to the commission at a public meeting after Labor Day.

In Tuesday’s meeting, Roger Leaf, Chair of the Administrative Commission of West-Park, was joined by a team of engineers and developers who once again presented their application for the demolition of the church. They did so without the support of CB7, which in a June meeting voted to pass a resolution in opposition to the congregation’s hardship application.

A team of engineers addressed the structural concerns. Most apparent were issues with the building’s north and south walls, which currently have an “outward lean” of four and eight inches, respectively. The team installed monitoring devices on both walls that will provide real-time data about their condition and any additional movement.

The team also responded to comments raised suggesting that the present condition of the building was self-imposed, meaning that the church may have failed to make repairs over the years to maintain the building’s condition.

Valerie Campbell, a partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, responded that the building was designated as a landmark over the objections of the congregation, which knew that it did not have the resources to repair and maintain the building.

“There were a number of people including neighbors and elected officials who made a lot of promises about helping the church and raising resources ... and for the most part those promises were never met,” Campbell said.

“I’ve been sitting here listening to a lot of the comments ... that this was benign neglect on behalf of the church,” Kenneth Horn, president and founder of Alchemy Properties added. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

The New York Times reported that the Center at West Park, the church’s sole tenant, had offered to purchase the church for $3.5 million. Leaf said the congregation responded by explaining that it had entered into a contract with another buyer and could not enter any discussions with other prospective buyers until it had determined the status of that sale.

“Our job is to try to save buildings ... so if somebody is ruling out what seems to be someone knocking at the door with a big wallet, it’s certainly worthy of a question,” one commissioner commented, to which Campbell responded, “I would certainly not characterize the current offer as a big wallet.”