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Controversial UWS Church-to-Condo Conversion Approved by Board

By Emily Frost | April 16, 2015 4:51pm
 The conversion of the landmarked church at 361 Central Park West into condos is one step closer to becoming a reality. 
Church-to-Condo Conversion Gets CB7 Approval
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A neighborhood battle to block the condo conversion of a landmarked church is nearing a dead-end, as Community Board 7 voted Wednesday to give the developer's plan a crucial zoning exemption.

The developer of the 112-year-old church at 361 Central Park West will now go before the full Community Board 7 in its bid to begin a gut renovation of the interior and add windows and a penthouse to the property.

Locals have made no secret of their dislike for the plan presented by developer 361 CPW LLC, which bought the landmarked church last summer for $26 million.

Community Board 7 members protested the proposal to change the church façade by adding 70 windows, calling the design "pockmarked." But after the developer reduced the number of windows, the board was appeased and the Landmarks Preservation Commission gave its approval to alter the building on March 10. 

If CB7's full board approves the plan, the developer will still need the approval of the city's Board of Standard and Appeals. The plan will also need the city to waive certain zoning regulations, which developers argue are required to retain the structure's original architecture.

The developer is asking the BSA for a waiver for its lack of a rear yard or a large enough courtyard and because the project will have windows that are too close to the lot line and an adjacent building.

"Landmarks wanted us to preserve the building as much as possible," Howard Zipser, a lawyer for 361 CPW LLC.  told community board members Wednesday night. In order to meet existing zoning guidelines, significant changes to the building would have to be made that would alter its character, Zipser explained.

The proposal didn't sit well with critics at the meeting who argued that the developer was aware prior to purchasing the property that meeting regulations would be a problem.

"The new owner bought it knowing it was a landmark," said Susan Simon, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. 

Simon said she didn't approve of the fact that the owner now gets to skirt the rules and make a profit. 

The 39 apartments will net the developer $56 million in profit, a representative confirmed.

Reps for the developer say the church was in disrepair and that no other religious community had come forward to take it off the hands of the existing congregation, Crenshaw Christian Center East, which couldn't afford the extensive maintenance and repairs needed. 

The fact that nothing in the way of upkeep has been done since 1990 is "heartbreaking," added architect Judith Saltzman, who helped design the conversion.

"There are not any other viable alternatives that have been brought forward," she said, adding that the design "was an attempt to handle this as sensitively and responsibly toward the landmark as we could."

The BSA did not immediately respond to request for comment about when it would hold a public hearing on the zoning variance application.