Decision Delayed on Church Conversion at 361 Central Park West

361 Central Park West, with mock-up in December 2014. Via Google Maps.361 Central Park West, with mock-up in December 2014. Via Google Maps.

It was back in 2014 that Manhattan Community Board 7 started considering a plan to convert a landmark former Upper West Side church into condos. Now, it is February of 2016 and there is still no word on whether that conversion will go forward, its fate held in the hands of the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Initially, the plan to convert the former First Church of Christ, Scientist in New York City – at 361 Central Park West – was slammed by the community board, eventually winning approval before heading to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The LPC also initially slammed it before eventually approving a revised proposal. The community board committees (preservation and land use) continued to approve it, but then the full community board reversed that.

Of course, community boards don’t actually have final say. So, the LPC approval marks one of the necessary checkmarks for the project. But it also needs the BSA’s blessing for a number of waivers, including light and air requirements for residential structures.

The developer has refined the design of the plan (though not the alterations to the building’s exterior) since LPC approval, including a reduction in unit count from 39 to 35. In order to for the developer – 361 Central Park West LLC – to get those waivers, it must prove hardships, and community activists maintain the case has for those hardships – has not been met.

The LPC approval was in March of 2015 and the BSA process started that same month. Here we are nearly a year and a handful of hearings later and no decision has been made. The case came up on Tuesday, February 23, but that lasted barely 15 seconds, just enough time to postpone the matter – supposedly the decision on it – to the Tuesday, March 8 session.

The Christian Science church doesn’t want the 1903 church anymore, having left and upgraded the former Second Church on West 65th Street to First Church, but former New York City preacher Pastor Terry Starks, now working in Georgia, would love to minister to a flock there.

It is an individual landmark, which means it can’t be torn down without the LPC’s approval. It is not, however, an interior landmark, and the interior has already been gutted. So, we hope a decision does come soon so this stately building can be put back to use, whether as condos, a house of worship, or something else.

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