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Architect Plays Game of Spot the Orange Pole on the East Village Synagogue

By Serena Solomon | March 7, 2013 10:01am

EAST VILLAGE — An architect is challenging neighbors to spot a series of poles and bright-orange netting he's placed atop an East Sixth Street synagogue — to prove that a planned penthouse addition to the house of worship won't affect its appearance.

Architect Joseph Pell Lombardi is responsible for the design to convert much of the cash-strapped Congregation Adas Le Israel Anshei Meseritz's building into three apartments, including adding a penthouse and terrace.

Lombardi erected the temporary mock-up as a stand-in to prove the planned addition above the 102-year-old synagogue at 415 E. Sixth St. will not be visible from the street, to fit within the guidelines of Lower East Side/East Village Historic District.

"There is a mock-up in place — a bright orange mark — and I would welcome any of you to take a look at," Lombardi said before Community Board 3's landmarks committee Wednesday night, where he spoke in an effort to earn the board's thumbs-up for the addition.

"It's up there now on top of the roof… we worked hard to make sure it wasn't visible."

For the penthouse to be feasible as part of the million-dollar deal, signed between developer East River Partners and the synagogue's board, it cannot be visible from the street and therefore must be built back 25 feet from the building's front.

Congregation Adas Le Israel Anshei Meseritz is part of the newly minted Lower East Side/East Village Historic District, which includes harsh restrictions on restorations or additions that can be seen from street level. 

The CB3 committee decided to table its decision on the addition until another committee meeting, scheduled to be held Thursday. The proposal is set to go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on April 9 and, if approved, Lombardi hopes construction will be completed within a year.

The rundown synagogue recently signed a 99-year lease with East River Partners worth approximately $1.225 million for 6,129 square feet of real estate. Under the deal, the synagogue will be moved to basement level, with the first and second levels becoming apartments, along with the addition of a third at penthouse level including a front and back terrace.

"We are in very bad shape. This building is going to be a pile of rubble," said Robert Rand, the synagogue's president. "We are in need of first aid."

The deal will help the congregation fund it's day-to-day existence, as well as make "the rabbi position a salaried one," according to court documents filed in January.

Eli Shoshani, a congregation member at the committee meeting who has been a cantor at the synagogue for four years, said not all members had been consulted on the plan.

"I don't know who supports this plan," he said. "It [the penthouse] is going to be visible."

Shoshani said the synagogue's leadership has allowed the building to slip into disrepair, making the development option a possibility.

In 2008, a deal between the synagogue and Kushner Companies to demolish the building and replace it with condos fell through, according to The Villager.

"This is what is happening to our history," Shoshani said. "We are just going to give up and go to the basement."

Rand rejected the notion that the congregation had not had its say on the project, adding that a ballot occurred communicating "overwhelming support" for the project from members.

"These guys [East River Partners] are saints," he said.