By Carol Tannenhauser
Sarah Carroll, chair of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), didn’t keep attendees at Tuesday’s public hearing about the fate of West Park Presbyterian Church in suspense.
At the start of the four-hour meeting, where commissioners heard from nearly 50 people, Carroll said a decision won’t be made until later this summer about whether the 132-year-old landmarked church will remain standing or make way for a new high-rise project.
Carroll and the 10 other commissioners will go over Tuesday’s testimony, make site visits to the church and hold another session for questions and discussion in July, before making a final decision on the church’s fate. “It will be a very robust and methodical public hearing process,” she said.
That process is something of a contrast with the two Upper West Side community board meetings held this spring to consider the request of the 12-member West Park congregation, which has filed a “hardship application” to release it from its landmark designation. If landmark status is ultimately removed, the church can be sold to a developer with $33 million and a plan to raze the 19th-century building and replace it with a 19-story condominium.
Both Community Board 7 and its landmarks committee voted soundly to reject the hardship application — and thus the condo project. But their votes were only recommendations to the Landmarks Commission, which has the final authority in the matter.
And the testimony before the LPC on Tuesday was less lopsided than what the community board members had heard earlier. Where almost every presentation at the CB7 sessions had opposed the condo project, more than a dozen speakers urged the LPC to allow it — by reversing the landmark designation the panel had given the building 12 years ago.
After West Park made its presentation, and approximately 46 people testified — 33 against the plan to tear the church down, 13 who were ready for the wrecking ball — Carroll closed the hearing.
So the news is no news, but not really. This is the 11th hour for the church. City Council Member Gale Brewer and several representatives of the nonprofit that currently leases — and has offered to buy and restore it — are confident the money can be raised.
Opponents accuse them of saying the same thing 12 years ago, when the church was first landmarked.
Proponents of saving the church say un-landmarking a landmark would set a dangerous precedent and undermine the Landmarks Law.
The details of both arguments coming soon.