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Park Ave. Synagogue's Rooftop Greenspace Proposal Denied by Community Board

By Shaye Weaver | July 17, 2015 11:42am | Updated on July 20, 2015 8:55am
 Neighbors adjacent to the Trevor School are upset that the Park Avenue Synagogue, which owns the space, hasn't done a community outreach about its renovation plans.
Trevor School Construction Draws Heat From Neighbors
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CARNEGIE HILL — The Park Avenue Synagogue is preparing to renovate its new home on East 89th Street, but locals and community board members say the planned addition will block views from neighboring apartments.

The synagogue will move into its new home at 11 E. 89th St., where the Trevor Day School currently exists, at the end of this summer. It plans to repair and renovate the building's exterior and install a green space on the roof, along with a new elevator bulkhead and a tall fence, which has some residents concerned that the additions will block views from their apartments and clash with the historic character of the building.

"You can see it when you walk all the way down 89th street," said Upper East Side resident Cornelius Marx. "This cannot be what the landmarks commission had in mind when they made their rules. I would ask that the community board require the synagogue to make alternate plans to take care of this problem."

The landmarked building, constructed in 1912, is one of two locations for the Trevor Day School, but several months ago the Park Avenue Synagogue purchased the building to use it for its educational programming, according to Beryl Chernov, the executive director of the synagogue.

In the past, the school used the roof as a playground, but that equipment is in the process of being taken down to prepare for the coming renovation, according to Scott Reisinger, the head of the school. The school's summer program, which ends mid-August, no longer has rooftop access, he noted.

Once the Trevor Day School moves out toward the end of August, the synagogue plans to completely renovate the building. Its facade would be repaired and its aluminum windows would be replaced with wood casement windows to resemble how it looked in 1912.

On the roof, the synagogue also plans to add the elevator bulkhead, which will be 11 feet higher than an existing stair bulkhead, as well as an emergency generator on the roof within an enclosure. The entire area would be fenced in with a 10-foot-high metal coil fence.

Community Board 8's landmarks committee on Monday gave the exterior plans the green light but did not approve the rooftop plans, arguing that the new fence can be seen from the east and the west, and the elevator bulkhead and generator can be seen from the west.

Upper East Side resident Talton Embry, who lives next door, told Board 8 at its Wednesday meeting that he also objected to the rooftop proposal.

"The generator will block my view, and the fencing proposed to be put around could be seen down the street," he said.

Chernov defended the synagogue's plan for the roof space, saying it is important to have available for the synagogue's children since they've run out of space at the main location at 87th Street and Madison Avenue. He added that the elevator is necessary to be ADA compliant.

"The outdoor roof garden is critical importance … for [those] who will use the building," he said. "We welcome further dialogue and respectfully ask that the board approve our application without delay."

Resident Larry Davis said the synagogue could've done more community outreach during the planning process. He pointed to St. David's school, located across the street, which he said had sought out community feed back before deciding to build a one-story rooftop addition last year.

"It was calculated and devious," he said of the synagogue's plan. "There are multiple ways that the synagogue can comply with ADA to bring people up to the roof without a 20-foot bulkhead. It is a 1912, beautiful townhouse and it doesn’t deserve to be destroyed by this kind of inappropriate addition."

On Wednesday, CB8 voted to uphold the committee's ruling on the application denying the rooftop plans. Members requested in a resolution that the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission wait until the synagogue meets with residents about the plans before making its decision.

Landmarks confirmed receiving the synagogue's application, but a hearing for the proposal has not yet been scheduled.