Thursday, April 17, 2014

[Updated] Speculating about future development at the Town and Village Synagogue

As we reported last Oct. 1, the Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue on East 14th Street is for sale for possible development.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing about a potential landmark designation here at 334 E. 14th St. this past March 25. (The LPC will accept public comments until 30 days from this date.)

Preservationists and some local residents want to see the 150-year-old building designated by the city as a protected landmark.

For their part, synagogue members downplayed the importance of the building’s architect during the hearing, as The East Villager reported.

"Synagogue members stressed that landmarking would raise costs just as a plan is underway to modify the structure to better serve community needs through a daycare center, disabled access and L.G.B.T.Q. services," according to The East Villager.

Meanwhile, there's speculation among some neighbors about what might be in the works here. According to one neighbor, the Claremont Group will be developing the neighboring building at 332 E. 14th St., which currently houses Metro Bicycles in the retail space. (Public records list the buyer as an LLC with an address that matches the Brusco Group, an afflilate of Westside Management Corp.)

The neighbor's theory is that the new owners of No. 332 will secure the air rights to the synagogue … or, if the back of the synagogue space is not landmarked, the space can be sold to create some kind of L-shaped residential building.

As evidence of what is possible here, the neighbor points to the battle in Chelsea, where local politicians, preservationists and residents have been protesting a proposed 11-story glass tower that cantilevers over the French Evangelical Church on West 16th Street. "The church's air rights were sold to Einhorn Development Group several months ago in an effort to garner funds to refurbish the ailing 1835 house of worship," per Curbed.

[Rendering of West 16th Street via Curbed]

As the neighbor wrote to the LPC, "Please grant landmark designation to BOTH the front and back buildings of the Town & Village Synagogue, in order to avoid desecration of a religious structure similar to what was done to St. Ann's Church on East 12th Street by NYU's awkward attempt to preserve literally 'a piece of it' in front of a 26-story tower."

Updated 1:56 p.m.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation clarified some facts about what’s possible on the site:

As of now, it’s not known whether the synagogue will be landmarked OR what the new owner of the bicycle shop is planning. We do know, however, that the height of any new development on this stretch of East 14th Street will be capped by the present C1-6A zoning rules. Because of this area’s contextual zoning, the height limit is 80 feet, or roughly eight stories, with a street wall maximum of 65 feet, regardless of whether one purchases “air rights” from the synagogue. These limits would make such a purchase almost certainly pointless.

If the main building of the synagogue were landmarked, but its heretofore-unknown “back building” were not, an L-shaped building conceivably could be built around it — up to 80 feet.

There are a number of differences between this situation and that of the French Evangelical Church on West 16th Street, or of the NYU development behind the old St. Ann’s Church on East 12th Street. One is that neither of those churches were designated New York City Landmarks. The other is that the zoning for those sites allowed much larger development than can take place here. If Town & Village were to be landmarked, an adjacent building would not be allowed to cantilever over the synagogue without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s review and approval.

Previously on EV Grieve:
[Updated] East 14th St. synagogue on the market for conversion to residential, commercial use

[Updated] East 14th Street synagogue up for sale considered for landmark designation


Anonymous said...

While the St. Ann's façade is ridiculous, it does achieve the building preservationist's goals. They're not in a position to enforce continued usage of the building in any capacity, and they don't even try to make anything affordable -- they merely preserve buildings as relics. This façade achieves this goal.

Anonymous said...

So in essence, this isn't really about landmarking a religious institution's building, but rather about preventing the potential building of a highrise. It might interest some to note that the East Village neighborhood doesn't belong to "them", but rather is a part of NYC as a whole, and is treated by city planners in that context. Additionally, when you cite potential expansion of a religious institution as your reason for opposition, you invite yourself entry to a federal civil rights trial. Maybe it makes sense to not only think about what pleases yourself ?

nygrump said...

There should be some kind of tax penalty for these church-type sales - they take up space without paying taxes for years and then they cash out and walk away and leave the community with shit. Sounds familiar.

Scuba Diva said...

For the record, it's supposed to be "L.G.B.T.Q.I."

Anonymous said...

If a nonprofit cedes itself to a for profit entity, then taxes are paid by the commercial property. In the meantime, how about considering all that the institutions contributed to the community in the past ? There's a reason for granting tax-exempt status.

Anonymous said...

This is about saving an architecturally and historic building that is almost 150 yrs old. The integrity of the building will be destroyed if it is enveloped by condos or dorms.

nygrump said...

11:59 - I'm not disputing that, but they get all the reward of the real estate without any of the responsibility. They leave a big hole and now we have to live with the results. They get to have it both ways. Not pay taxes, and enjoy the profits.

Anonymous said...

@nygrump, I don't think you quite understand what's going on here. The T&V congregation is a vital group of committed people who have been supporting and sustaining a congregation for over 50 years. Every year, the congregation raises just about enough money from its membership to sustain itself for the next year. The object here is to expand and grow with the needs of the congregation and the community it serves. They put the building on the market to gauge interest in possibly developing a space that would expand the congregation. By landmarking the building, they would be saddled with expensive and restrictive rules brought by the LPC which would bring hardship on the congregation. It isn't the residents of the community at large that are financially supporting them, rather they are sustained by a group of several hundred families who pay yearly membership fees and contribute to fundraising. Doesn't being a good, contributing neighbor of the community count for anything ? Why is there no empathy for this institution ? They don't deserve to be treated like they came here yesterday to exploit the real estate market. Save that for the RE groups that are grabbing every property in sight.

Anonymous said...

Religion in this country at least in big cities like NY is shrinking. If you don't believe me look at how many houses of worship are strapped for cash, have little attendance to services and how many of these buildings are either converted or sold and demolished. Regardless if you are a believer or not houses of worship our part of our collective past and a reflection of the diversity that has lived in our city. Most religious organizations with property holdings sell off due to the cost of maintaing large and usually 100-150 year old building. Often the new property owner makes an agreement with the religious organizers to provide a space within the new (apartment) building for years to come. I believe this is what will happen to this temple. The temple will continue with its work, the building will be forever lost to history and a new glass and steel building will be standing on 14th Street.