By Carol Tannenhauser
West-Park Presbyterian Church, on the corner of West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, is back in the news – and foremost on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s agenda at a hearing next Tuesday.
When we last heard about the 133-year-old landmark church in July 2022, those petitioning to demolish it on the grounds of “hardship” — namely, its own 12-member congregation — had produced evidence that the north and south walls of the 19th-century, red-sandstone structure were tilting outward, causing the south wall to be 27% “overstressed.” It was one more example of the precarious condition of the church — the restoration of which would cost $50 million, according to the congregation’s estimate.
That price tag is at the heart of the congregation’s argument that landmark status should be removed, allowing demolition of the church and sale of the land it’s on for $33 million to a developer who is waiting to erect a 19-story condominium. The new building would include space for the congregation, which would receive $8.8 million to build it out and funds for an endowment, with the balance of the sale proceeds gifted to the administrative body of the Presbyterian Church.
Led by City Councilmember Gale Brewer, opposition to this plan has been fierce. At a Community Board 7 meeting one year ago, which 160 community members attended, dozens testified, along with board members, in favor of saving the church. In addition, a local community arts nonprofit organization that has been renting space in the church since 2010, offered to buy it, albeit for far less than $33 million. City Councilmember Brewer — confident that private money can be raised — has not given a recent update on fundraising, nor has the nonprofit.
Back on CB 7’s agenda
The CB 7 Preservation Committee is meeting tonight, June 8, at 6:30 p.m., to provide a “quick recap” of the issue before next week’s hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, according to Board Chair Beverly Donohue. (Register for the June 8th Preservation Committee Meeting here.) The committee will not hear public comments.
Expression will be encouraged, however, at a rally organized by Brewer for Saturday, June 10, at 1 p.m., on West 86th and Amsterdam, outside or inside the church, depending on the smoke, according to her office. At the most recent CB 7 meeting, Brewer said celebrity donors will be there.
Then on Tuesday, June 13, the landmarks commission will hear public testimony (written submissions are also welcomed), but “the Commission will not vote on the application on June 13,” a commission official told the Rag. Specific instructions on how to observe and testify at the hearing will be posted on the LPC’s website, under the “Hearings” tab, on the Monday before the public hearing. (We’ll post the link in Monday Bulletin.)
Back in 2022, when the church released information about the “overstressed” walls, the commission said it had retained its own experts, who would report back with their independent findings on the church’s condition after Labor Day…2022!
Will the case be decided before Labor Day 2023? Check the Rag for updates.
Correction: We originally said City Councilmember Gale Brewer was confident private and public funds would be raised. She referred only to private money.
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