DEVELOPER DROPS PLAN TO TURN HISTORIC CHURCH INTO CONDOS

crenshaw church

The developer behind a plan to turn the First Church of Christ, Scientist on 96th street and Central Park West into a condo building has withdrawn the proposal in the face of expected opposition from a city board, according to NY YIMBY.

The plan had faced tough opposition at the community board, which opposed the way that architects wanted to change the windows, among other things. The church has already been gutted inside, but its exterior is protected by landmarks rules. After several setbacks, the Landmarks Preservation Commission — whose opinion was binding, unlike the community board’s — gave the project the go-ahead.

Still, the developer needed special permissions from the Board of Standards and Appeals to override local zoning rules, given the difficulties of building out condos inside a 1903 church.

A source tells YIMBY that the developer, listed as 361 Central Park West LLC, withdrew the plan in the face of likely rejection by the Board of Standards and Appeals, which had to approve waivers necessary for the conversion. The process at the BSA started in late March 2015, after an already lengthy process at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A lawyer for the Central Park West Neighbors Association told YIMBY the withdrawal is a victory: “Landmark buildings, especially churches, should never be converted to residential use. They are important public assets which help maintain our collective identity.”

HISTORY, NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 52 comments | permalink
    1. 21D says:

      I’d like the name of the lawyer. Good to hear!

    2. West Sider says:

      Michael Hiller.

    3. Jay says:

      Congratulations to the neighborhood association. Another abandoned building for the foreseeable future. Yeah!

    4. Jonathan Gibson says:

      If it’s not going to be used as a church and it can’t be converted to residential what other potential uses are there for it? Hopefully the plan isn’t just to leave it vacated / useless.

    5. Sherman says:

      So now the church is a big empty shell of a building. What is going to happen to it?

    6. Chuck D says:

      So now it’s just going to be empty? Bring back the Limelight!

    7. DMH says:

      Embarrassing. Wonder what went on in that Board of Standards and Appeals decision. Enjoy your chained-up crumbling relic with scaffolding around it, CPW Neighbors Association.

    8. Sean says:

      Maybe it could become a Food Emporium?

    9. Bz says:

      Hmmm…must be a lot of developer/real estate posters this morning.

    10. Ground Control says:

      Actually I heard there is serious interest to buy the church from several parties. At least one of them is a major museum. For those who may not know-variances are not just to be handed out like candy. While they are given far too easily-they are only intended in serious cases, like hardship. Not when a developer decides to buy a designated landmark full of limitations, target it for luxury condos even when the building was never built for residential use-and use the government to partner with him so he can make a windfall of $100 million dollars this guy projected he would make. If the agencies of the city collude in this matter-then they are breaking the law. They are not brokers! Their job is not to enrich speculative developers but to work for the citizenry. The church membership and their Pastor sat front row center at the hearings to fight for this church! There are a number of potential buyers. Major curators, architects, and experts including Robert Stern fought to save the church. It never once sat idle until this developer bought it! For over 100 years the church was occupied and in recent years was thriving.

    11. Jay says:

      Sorry, Bz…

      People who don’t think a small group of NIMBYs with lawyers have the community’s best interests at heart are posting today.

    12. Paul RL says:

      Kudos to the short-sighted fools who killed what would have been a great improvement to the neighborhood. Now you can stare at a beautifully empty EX-church to go along with the forest of homeless shelters and drug-addict housing in the area. Nice work!

    13. DMH says:

      really, Ground Control? Which museum? Will they require the same variances?

      My view is that new housing in this spot better for the neighborhood than a new museum.

      Creative reuse is a thing. It’s part of what makes New York great. I’d so much rather see new housing go into a structure like this than a bland new megalith box.

    14. jsc says:

      I’m not surprised. The plans for a residential unit were never that attractive – even with the addition of the (ugly) windows, the apartments would have been incredibly dim and without great views. I’m curious to see what happens next with this building.

    15. Riverside Pete says:

      Maybe DeBlasio can convert it into barracks to house the army of criminals and mentally deranged folks flooding the neighborhood. Or maybe we can Transfer in the Gitmo folks..

    16. Emily S. says:

      If De Blasio is making people like you that angry, he must be doing something right. Giuliani time is over, get over it.

    17. Zane says:

      @Paul Rl: Don’t you think you’re being overly dramatic? Other people live in this neighborhood too, you aren’t the only one. Your opinion doesn’t speak for anybody but yourself.

    18. Nim says:

      How about making it in to a public school? Seems to be a shortage of those in the district.

    19. meatballswife says:

      OK! So now will someone PLEASE take down the ratty, falling down (yet never quite put up) wood and orange plastic mesh scaffolding that has been on the roof for well over a year now?

    20. Pjrod says:

      Riverside Pete you are spot on with your comment! Enjoy your new rat resort folks.

    21. KB says:

      I would LOVE to see this converted into a museum/performance space! Probably not like the Limelight, but, more like what goes on at the Ethical Cultural Society. I recently saw the Zombies and Ricki Lee Jones there and it was a great audience experience. (the performers seemed to enjoy it too)

      I remember when productions were staged in the ruins of the old hospital at 105/6 and those were awesome too. This neighborhood had several iconic jazz clubs in the heyday it would be great to bring that back to the neighborhood too!I am hoping that Ground Control’s rumor is true.

    22. Pjrod says:

      Hey Emily S- maybe we can bring back the crack houses you seem so nostalgic for.

    23. Robert Espier says:

      It’s heartening to see the community’s wisdom prevail.

    24. Paul RL says:

      Zane, while I appreciate you taking the time to single me out for having an overly dramatic opinion, may I remind you that this is in fact a comments section, which I mistakenly presumed to actually require opinions in order to make it work. Silly me – my apologies.

    25. Tony says:

      Hopefully it will be turned into a CVS or a Dunkin Donuts.

      Or a bank.

    26. Sg says:

      Emily – So the positive change that revitalized the city was a bad thing…by what standards? Maybe you could open up your home to the people referenced.

    27. Emily says:

      I’m sorry people like you still worship Jesusiuliani, I feel sorry the same way I feel for old ladies living out in the isolated countryside who still think World War 2 is going on. Get over it, New York turned back into New York big whoop.

    28. DMH says:

      It’s worth clicking through to the YIMBY article. Here are the variances the developer was requesting.

      As for those waivers, the developer was seeking them those on the basis of five hardships. As we reported back in early December, the first was that there are unique physical conditions, including irregularity, narrowness or shallowness of lot size or shape, etc. make it impossible to comply with existing zoning. Second, that those physical conditions mean that there is no possibility of a reasonable return under current conditions. Third, that if a variance is granted, it “will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district.” Fourth, that the hardships are not the applicant’s fault. Fifth, that the variance sought is the minimum required to achieve reasonable return on the property.

      At that time, attorney Michael Hiller, representing the Central Park West Neighbors Association, called the hardship application “considerable hubris.”

      Given the other performing arts venues in the neighborhood and the difficulty in getting the Alamo open again, there’s no way this is viable as a performing arts center without millions of dollars in public subsidy, in a city that needs more housing for its seniors and everybody else.

      I’m not affiliated with the developer, just disappointed to see a great project go down in defeat.

    29. Major Tom says:

      Ground Control: Just wanted to let you know that I took my protein pills. Putting my helmet on now.

    30. KB says:

      Everyone who thinks that any type of subsidized housing ie:shelter, affordable housing or eldercare will be put in this location is DREAMING it is 97 & CPW!!!

      There is plenty of room for an arts institution … especially if it is open to the occasional (ahem) high profile booking. Perhaps it would bring some decent dining options to the neighborhood as well. Fingers still crossed.

      **A school would be cool too, but admit it, it wouldn’t be a public one.

    31. UWSmom says:

      Come on Upper West Siders – What’s wrong with apartments? I’ pretty sure you all live in one. I’d much rather a clean building with good neighbors who take care of and invest in the building vs. an empty crumbling rat, roach, mold motel. I love historical buildings, but the safety and cleanliness of my neighborhood where my kids walk and play is way more important. Am I wrong to assume that the board so opposed to the condo conversion is made up of older residents who no longer have young children to worry about? I worry even more if it becomes a public museum as the traffic, tourists, and strangers it brings to my block are another concern. Let’s start putting the safety of our neighborhood and its residents above the “safety” of some stained glass windows in an old building that needs regular maintenance and investment more that it needs its windows. Take the windows to the museum and keep my block safe please!

    32. DMH says:

      Maybe. I really worry the end result is a 22-story tower goes up in place of the historic row houses around the corner at 19 W 96th, a vacant scaffolded relic here, more prison-style senior housing jammed in somewhere else, and meanwhile the parkfront blocks between 97 and 100 keep getting used as surface parking lots.

    33. Randy Turner says:

      The following definition comes from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. It is sad that reasonable compromises could not be reached for the church property.

      “Rehabilitation” is defined as “the process of returning a property to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, which makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions and features of the property which are significant to its historic, architectural, and cultural values.”

    34. Leslie Rupert says:

      To those who think churches are public assets and maintain our collective identity I put the question, who will be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of these buildings. There is no longer a congregation to bear the burden. A perfect example is West Park Presbyterian. The building is practically a health hazard. The building needs tens of thousands of dollars of work. I ask you, where will that money come from?

    35. 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

      Knock it down and build housing I say. We have a housing shortage.

    36. Nathan says:

      Not going to comment on this building specifically, but this quote really bothered me: “Landmark buildings, especially churches, should never be converted to residential use.”

      Never?! As in there is never a good case to be made for adaptive reuse of obsolete buildings? So all those warehouse lofts should be converted back into vacant industrial space? Okay then.

    37. Bishop says:

      This is tough – how do you convert this structure (which I think is very beautiful) into livable apartments without physically altering the exterior, by cutting new windows, etc. I hate that the building was gutted, for surely it’s interior was beautiful, but such structures have limited use if they must remain intact exteriorly. On the other hand, as crazy as it seems, as other minor landmarks in the neighborhood are demolished to make way for massive mediocrities, I have to say I’m not disappointed that this particular edifice has been spared.

    38. Jean says:

      How about a museum representing the UPPER WEST SIDE since there IS no such thing?
      The west side already is historical, from Henry Hudson and before, back to prehistoric times.
      The west side is historical in architecture and history otherwise, in its people and music…and its art… There’s a whole lot that can be done with this beautiful gutted space and its right smack dab in the upper West Side already!

    39. Lucien says:

      I suspect the real reason the developer stopped is because the real estate market for luxury condos has stalled out. A broker recently told me anything $2 million+ isn’t selling and buyers can almost name their price.

      So while I would like to think Central Park West Neighbors Association “won” it was probably the developer realizing the reality of the situation.

    40. Neighbor says:

      The developer failed to satisfy any one of the five findings that TOGETHER must be satisfied for “hardship” to be deemed a ground for granting a variance. Zoning code rightly prohibits a multiple dwelling of this size and shape on a corner lot unless its LR and bedroom windows are 30 feet from the property line. The church building is less than five feet from the adjacent property. This condo plan called for invasive alterations, mostly on the sides you can’t see from 96th St., that would have significant negative impact on the adjacent properties.

      As other commentators have stated, one museum and one church are very interested in the building. The neighborhood is not zoned for commercial use on CPW.

      There is also the larger question, will city agencies apply the zoning codes that exist to protect neighborhoods and adjacent property owners? To grant this particular variance, when the requirements for a variance are in no way met, basically is to kiss zoning goodbye.

      It’s a false dichotomy to say the only choices are THIS plan or a derelict building.

    41. Dismayed says:

      I suspect the developer withdrew because after multiple public and private presentations to the zoning board it was clear that the proposal simply didn’t pass muster. The numbers didn’t add up and the hardship imposed on the existing adjacent buildings were too egregious. The housing code exists to protect apartment dwellers from 19th century tenement conditions, which this would have imposed. The new luxury apartments would suffer the same light-noise-ventilation issues, which would make them dubious investments.

      The BSA doesn’t exist to grant variances to developers just because they really, really want to make a killing, though with their 97% approval rate that often seems like the case.

    42. Jay says:

      “As other commentators have stated, one museum and one church are very interested in the building.”

      One commentator mentioned that and many others have doubted this anonymous post because it makes little sense.

      Name one museum or church that has the need and resources to use the large amount of space, plus deal with all the restrictions?

      I don’t know why NIMBYs love abandoned, derelict buildings next door, but they got their wish this time.

    43. Christine E says:

      There are some gorgeous ex-churches converted to residential use in Brooklyn. Gorgeous and perfectly complementing the historical nature of the neighborhood surroundings. The difference here, I think, is that the developer wants to monkey around so much with window openings and facade changes that the original historical character would be compromised. So I am glad that the original developer is not proceeding but I do not object to that or another use in the future.

    44. jwj says:

      Emily s, please move to Camden,NJ.

    45. J says:

      Agreed. And let’s be realistic – there will be a whole big to-do yet again if and when a church or museum does come out and show public interest. There will always be a group or person who doesn’t approve of the type of church or museum moving in…. and YES, the inside of the church WAS beautiful but has all been gutted. Now the association is literally fighting to save the shell – all while the inside rots and becomes a danger.

    46. Dismayed says:

      One huge problem with converting the church to residences is the narrow distance between the church and its nearest neighbor (which happens to be my building. 12 feet is too close for comfort. The 1961 housing code mandates a minimum of 30 feet. The buyers of the $40M penthouse would have lovely views, but their downstairs neighbors would be able to watch their neighbors’ TV through from the windows of their $10M apartments. This also affects 55 apartments that face the church.

      To add to the fun, the narrow passage between the buildings already conducts and amplifies noise both vertically and horizontally. The light and noise pollution would be a nightmare if the city grants variances to housing code meant to protect living conditions. Can you blame the local NIMBY response?

    47. Liz says:

      Wow!! Wow!! Wow!! A lawyer who actually has values. Someone who can see everything is not for sale.

      Thank God.

    48. 92nd street says:

      Are the warehouse landmarks?
      otherwise it does not apply

    49. 92nd street says:

      A rep from Trader Joe’s recently toured the property as did Rose Real Estate a prominent Commercial Real Estate developer that has ties to several upscale chains including Eric Keyser, Shake Shack, M Cakes, Eli’s, and some high end women contemporary apparel lines.

    50. uWSAfricanAmerican says:

      Outstanding News!

      A wealthy community like CPW would love a market in the same field as Eataly, Chelsea Market, Citarella, or Dean and Deluca and this would easily and clearly fill that void. It just takes an intelligent developer or Real Estate Agent to take the reigns.

    51. Susan says:

      Ummm. The church is zoned residential. Not commercial! There will be no Trader Joes’s there, or Eataly or Duane Reade. Good fear tactic though. How many commercial enterprises have you seen on Central Park West??

    52. Bruce Bernstein says:

      thank you Michael Hiller (the lawyer — i’m sure he did this pro bono) and the Central Park West Neighbors Association for preserving this building. It’s a little shocking how many posters just want to throw away what he rights called out “collective identity” for yet more luxury condos.

      it’s interesting that some of the same commenters who oppose any sort of affordable housing project are in favor of this luxury conversion because “we need more housing.” No, we need more AFFORDABLE housing.

      I would like to see the building become a museum, an arts institution, a learning space, a performance space… something with a public mission, reflecting the majesty of the building.