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Community Rallies to Curb Size of Proposed Morningside Heights Tower

By Emily Frost | April 11, 2016 12:28pm
 Jewish Theological Seminary is using the sale of a land parcel on its campus to fund a new library, it said.
Jewish Theological Seminary is using the sale of a land parcel on its campus to fund a new library, it said.
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Flickr/Patrick Nelson

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Residents are pushing to meet with a real estate developer planning to build a new condo they fear will dwarf nearby buildings and erode the neighborhood's character — urging the developer not to ignore their concerns.

Adding to their plea, City Councilman Mark Levine launched an online petition Sunday that calls for the proposed condo to blend in with existing buildings.

In late January, Jewish Theological Seminary sold a parcel of land on its campus for $96 million to Savanna, a real estate development firm that plans to build a 250,000-square-foot condo building on West 122nd Street, according to reports and the seminary.

JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen said the sale will help fund a "reimagining" of the campus and "the beginning of a new chapter," for the school, in a release. 

The sale included air rights, which could mean a tower that rises as high as 40 stories, according to Levine. His office has not yet seen any renderings, said Tyrone Stevens, a spokesman from his office. 

Joined by residents from the Morningside Gardens apartment complex, Levine launched an online petition on his website to "galvanize" other neighbors, Stevens said.

The petition calls on Savanna "to respect the scale and context of the surrounding Morningside Heights community in its design for the tower."

Given the architectural heritage of the neighborhood, a skyscraper would diminish its legacy, the petition argues.

"Such a behemoth would cast massive shadows over large areas of a neighborhood where light, air, and greenspace are cherished.  A building of this scale would also severely burden local infrastructure, in a place where subways, buses, streets, libraries and schools are already overcrowded," the petition states. 

The petition also calls for the condo to include affordable housing and well-paying construction jobs accessible to Northern Manhattan residents.

The Morningside Heights Historic District Committee has reached out to Savanna at least a dozen times to meet with them, said Laura Friedman, the group's president. 

Rather than be reactive to a bad design, the committee would like to be involved from the beginning and help influence what's built, she said. 

"What we would want is to limit the size of the building and not do something that’s so jarringly out of context [with Morningside Heights] and have the look of the building be part of the look of the community," said Friedman.

Part of the problem is that the current zoning, which hasn't been changed since 1961, allows for large as-of-right development, like the new residential tower next to St. John the Divine and the Savanna project, she said. 

The Morningside Heights Historic District Committee , along with Community Board 9 and Levine, have called for the city to rezone the neighborhood to block large, irreversible development. 

The committee will likely support Levine's new petition, she said. 

Representatives from Savanna did not immediately respond to request for comment. 

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