Testimony By New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane Before the New York City Board of Standards And Appeals Regarding Congregation Shearith Israel's Application for Variances at 6-10 West 70th Street

November 27, 2007

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senatorial District, which includes the Upper West Side where Congregation Shearith Israel's (CSI) proposed building at 6-10 West 70th Street is located. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony before the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) today, although I had hoped that this hearing could have been delayed until after Community Board 7 had an opportunity to deliberate on this recently completed application.

As you know, CSI, a religious, not-for-profit institution, plans to construct a new community house at 6-10 West 70th Street for its programmatic needs. However, while CSI could construct "as of right" an appropriately sized building for these purposes under the area's mid-block R8-B contextual zoning within the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, it is, instead, seeking seven variances from the BSA. Most of these variances will be used to construct five floors of market-rate residential units for revenue-generating purposes.

Section 72-21 of the Zoning Resolution states that a variance must not "alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the zoning lot is located...substantially impair appropriate use or development of adjacent property; detrimental to the public welfare." Unfortunately, CSI's proposed plans will be harmful to the quality of life of its neighbors and to the character of its neighborhood. To construct the additional five floors of private residential units, CSI is seeking a height variance that would allow it to build 30 feet taller than what is currently allowed under the R8-B mid-block contextual zoning within which it is located. This additional height will block the air, light, and view for at least seven east-facing windows and dozens more courtyard windows in the adjacent building at 18 West 70th Street, as well as cast looming shadows on neighboring low-rise historic buildings along West 70th Street. Current residents of these buildings will not only suffer the loss of open views and sunlight, but also diminished property values as a result.

I have heard that CSI wants to build these additional floors of market rate housing in order to generate profits to finance the construction of the building itself and finance the programs CSI will operate within it. Regardless of the reason, a religious, non-profit institution should not be using zoning waivers and variances as a method of generating funding. If CSI needs additional funds to complete construction of its building or to run its programs, it should be more aggressive in tapping its donor base and/or developing new donors, and of course it should factor in the increased revenue it will receive from the operations of its proposed community house. It should not be raising these funds at the expense of its neighbors and the surrounding neighborhood.

As a State Senator representing much of Manhattan, I continuously work with community activists and other elected officials to fight many developments that would encroach on their neighborhoods' character, quality of life, and sustainability. While the negative effects of this application, if approved by BSA, would directly harm the neighborhood of the Upper West Side, it would also set a City-wide precedent that would empower property owners, including non-profit organizations, to seek inappropriate variances to develop their real estate holdings. This would deal a serious setback to preservation efforts across the City. Our Cityfs zoning and historic preservation laws, specifically designed to protect the character and sustainability of our neighborhoods, would be rendered ineffective if special exemptions are readily given to developers seeking to expand their coffers at the expense of the community. We cannot let that happen.

In light of these matters, I strongly urge that BSA deny CSI these variances.

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