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179-Year-Old UWS Synagogue Sees Redevelopment as Only Path to Survival

By Emily Frost | September 7, 2016 2:23pm
 Congregation Shaare Zedek insists its only path to financial solvency is by selling the building to a real estate developer.
Congregation Shaare Zedek insists its only path to financial solvency is by selling the building to a real estate developer.
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Ronna Blaser

UPPER WEST SIDE — A 179-year-old synagogue is facing opposition in its quest to partner with a real estate developer to keep the congregation afloat.

Congregation Shaare Zedek is facing serious financial woes, with no endowment to fall back on, and cannot survive without selling its 1923 building at 212 W. West 93rd Street to a developer, synagogue president Michael Firestone said at a Community Board 7 meeting Tuesday.

"The synagogue’s sole asset is the building…We can’t own the building and be solvent," he said. Without the sale, "you will be left with a crumbling, abandoned building on 93rd street," he added. 

Through a partnership with a developer, the congregation plans to create a hybrid space that allows it to keep three lower stories for worship, with new apartments located above, former president Roz Paaswell said at the meeting.

Representatives from Shaare Zedek did not say whether they've made a deal with a developer or what the new building would look like during the meeting.

Ronna Blaser, a neighbor and member of the West Nineties Neighborhood Coalition that's fighting the project, cited added traffic from the new apartments in her opposition. She also claimed the building wouldn't feature any affordable units and that the resulting luxury tower would be higher than appropriate for the neighborhood.

Blaser added that she and others are petitioning the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold an emergency hearing to discuss landmarking the building. 

However, Paaswell pushed back on this idea, stating that preserving the facade is "financially infeasible" because the interior is in such poor condition, not up to code and inaccessible. The congregation already explored preserving the facade but no developer would bite, she added.

"If you landmark the building, the synagogue will be dissolved," Firestone said. 

The LPC did not immediately return a request for comment.

Blaser said after the meeting that the proposed building would rise 14 stories and that the congregation has already struck a partnership with the Ornstein Leyton Company, based on a letter it sent to a local co-op board. 

The company did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday, and Department of Buildings records show no permits filed for work at the address.

At the meeting, those against the redevelopment proposal urged the congregation to work with them to find alternate revenue streams.

Community Board 7 ultimately did not take a position on the matter, but will write to the Attorney General's Office explaining both perspectives, board chairwoman Elizabeth Caputo said.