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Landmark Historic UWS Synagogue Before It Becomes Condos, Neighbors Urge

By Emily Frost | October 14, 2016 4:46pm | Updated on October 17, 2016 8:55am
 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 — Neighbors are pushing to landmark a historic synagogue that's slated for demolition under a deal the congregation made to build condos at the site.

Congregation Shaare Zedek signed a contract with a developer to sell its 212 W. 93rd St. synagogue, which it's inhabited since 1923, synagogue president Michael Firestone said at a community board meeting Thursday night. In its place, the developer will build a condo building with Shaare Zedek owning and occupying three of the stories.

In response, residents concerned about losing the synagogue, as well as the light and air blocked out by the condo building, have applied for the structure to be declared a historic landmark. They said they filed a Request for Evaluation (RFE) with the Landmark Preservation Commission and are urging the the LPC to hold an emergency hearing before the synagogue can be razed.

Community Board 7 should support the LPC application so that the synagogue can have "its day in court," said Ronnie Blaser, who is part of the recently formed West 90s Neighborhood Coalition that is fighting the condo plan.

The board's Preservation Committee considered weighing in on Thursday, but ultimately didn't come to a decision about whether it will support the RFE or not. 

Committee members said they were torn between supporting preservation goals in the abstract and the needs of the congregation, which has said that selling the land is its only path to survival.

"It’s a dilemma," said Preservation Committee co-chair Jay Adolph. 

"I really feel torn in both directions," added board member Meisha Hunter. 

Part of the synagogue's dire financial picture stems from it owning a cemetery in Queens that costs millions of dollars to maintain, Firestone said. 

Selling the land will help absolve the congregation of that responsibility, he noted. 

"We want to get out of the cemetery business," Firestone said. "When you get out of the cemetery business you pay someone to take it off your hands."

Residents pushed the synagogue to consider other options, including selling the building to another congregation. 

But former Shaare Zedek president Roz Paaswell insisted there was no alternative offer and that the congregation had already signed a "binding contract." 

"We’re going to have this glass monstrosity," protested one resident who attended the meeting. 

Firestone reiterated that "if [the deal] does not happen and it’s landmarked, the synagogue is dissolved. You’re going to have an empty building on West 93rd Street."

The building is not as important as the congregation, Paaswell added. 

"In Judaism buildings aren’t so important, they are places that we use… but we move, we move a lot," she said.

The LPC said the synagogue is currently under review. 

The developer, Ornstein Leyton Company, did not respond to a request for comment.