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Community Board Rejects Central Park West Church-to-Condo Conversion Plan

By Emily Frost | May 6, 2015 4:43pm
 The board rejected the developers' request for variances to zoning regulations that would enable it to convert the church into condos. 
Board 7 Rejects 361 Central Park West Plan
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A plan to convert a historic church into condos was rejected by Community Board 7 Tuesday night in a vote that reversed an earlier approval by committee members. 

The board's land use committee originally approved a developer's plan to convert the landmarked church at 361 Central Park West into 39 apartments but the full board voted to overturn the decision Wednesday.

The majority of residents living near the church oppose the conversion, fearing it will harm the historic house of worship and negatively affect their property values — as the views from neighboring apartments would be of other people's apartments.

The developers, 361 Central Park West, had their plan to alter the outside of the landmark approved by the board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission earlier this year. 

They are seeking an exemption from a series of zoning regulations for residential use of a building, including the placement of windows, the need for a courtyard and the amount of space between buildings. 

Board 7 voted down that request Wednesday, but the city's Board of Standards and Appeals will have the final say on whether the developer will be exempted from the regulations and construction can begin. 

The BSA will take the board's recommendation into account, but will grant or deny the application for a variance based on its own determination, a spokesman said. 

No BSA hearing date has yet been set for this project, he said. 

Board members were at odds with each other on the fate of the project. Some characterized the building as "derelict" and a "mausoleum" in need of resuscitation by the developer, while others claimed the plan would forever mar a precious landmark.

Richard Asche, co-chair of the Land Use committee, which previously approved the zoning waiver request, tried to persuade his fellow board members to vote in favor of the exemption. 

"To me to have this building used again is a good thing for the community. You’ll have a clean new facade that honors the landmarked character," he said. 

CB7 member Mel Wymore said that in approving the zoning exemption, the board sets a bad precedent of encouraging "speculative buying and selling."

"We need to create a new policy to upkeep landmarked buildings, not to flip them and sell them," he said. 

The developer was surprised by the board's vote, a spokesman from 361 Central Park West LLC said.

"We could not have predicted that the full Community Board would not follow the recommendation of its own Land Use Committee, which voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the BSA approve the variance," the spokesman said in a statement.

The company will continue to work with "community stakeholders" in advance of the BSA hearing, its statement added, but noted it would not alter the building plans.  

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