By Carol Tannenhauser
At Tuesday’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing regarding West-Park Presbyterian Church, Chair Sarah Carroll made it clear from the start that no final action would be taken this week “or in the immediate future.”
The LPC is taking its time for good reason; whereas its mission is usually to preserve historic buildings, this time it must decide whether to allow one to be torn down.
The congregation of the 132-year-old church on the corner of West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue has filed a “hardship application,” declaring the building to be beyond repair, when assessed in terms of “return on investment.” They estimate the costs of restoration to exceed $50 million, a figure those fighting to save the church contest.
Tuesday’s meeting was a time for the church, represented by congregant Roger Leaf and his team – a lawyer, two engineers, an accountant, an appraiser, an architect, a developer, and others — to respond to questions raised by the public at the last LPC hearing on the church, held on June 14, as well as to testimony submitted online. The LPC commissioners, who have spent the last month reviewing the material, some making site visits to the church, would then have time to ask questions.
But, first, Leaf introduced some new information. “Both the north and south walls of the sanctuary are leaning outward,” he said. This information was not submitted at the June 14 meeting, because the church only received a letter on July 15 from structural engineers stating ‘the outward lean of the north and south walls is, quote unquote, excessive.’ They are currently monitoring whether this movement is ongoing.”
Leaf said the engineers determined the church’s south wall is about 27% overstressed, though that did not necessarily imply an emergency. “But it implies that it’s a structural condition that they recommend to be addressed.”
Estimated cost? “Another million or so.”
Commissioner Carroll did not respond directly to the announcement, but said the commission’s own engineering consultant had been asked to review and comment on all submissions. She said the commission is also hiring an outside expert to assist in reviewing the church’s application. “We will reconvene at a public meeting after Labor Day where these experts will present their findings to the commissioners.”
You can view the entire LPC hearing on YouTube below.