Shearith Israel Secures Final OK for Nine-Story Development
BY JACKSON CHEN | The Board of Standards and Appeals, in a swift, unanimous vote on February 28, approved Congregation Shearith Israel’s plans to construct a nine-story mixed-use development behind the synagogue at 8 West 70th Street.
The project was originally conceptualized in 2008, with five residential floors topping out a building with three floors of offices and classrooms plus a ground floor lobby. Those plans were approved back in 2008, but faced several roadblocks, and CSI had to return to the BSA for a new approval.
CSI and its representatives appeared again before the BSA this past October, and a lengthy public hearing followed on January 10. The unanimous vote last week came without discussion.
According to Zachary Bernstein, a representative for CSI, the synagogue is grateful for the approval and welcomes the chance to finally move the project forward.
The opposition to the project voiced disappointment with the BSA’s decision, but acknowledged that they could see the handwriting on the wall. Kate Wood, the president of Landmark West!, said she felt her side had strong arguments against the project but conceded that last week’s action put an end to any chance at blocking it through city channels.
“I think this whole process has been one of the BSA coaching the applicant to deliver the information… a package they could approve,” she said. “I don’t think there was ever a question that they were going to approve it because of the enormous influence the synagogue and their lobbyists were using over the decision process.”
Working alongside Wood, neighbors had formed the West Side Neighbors Association and retained Michael Hiller, an attorney known for representing residential opposition to major development projects.
In a February 15 letter to the BSA chair, Margery Perlmutter, however, he also conceded defeat.
“After the events that transpired at the most recent hearing, it is apparent to the Coalition that the Board is already disposed (and has been disposed since inception) to grant CSI’s application, and that the Coalition’s submissions will not be seriously considered or evaluated,” Hiller wrote. “Accordingly, we regard any substantive response to CSI’s most recent submission to be a waste of our time and our client’s resources.”
Wood said there is a bigger question to be examined in light of what she and her allies view as favoritism toward CSI from the BSA.
“We have to look at this not just in this specific case, but in the context of the larger concern of the integrity of these agencies and the administration,” she said.