Yesterday, we reported on yet another delay in the over year-long process of the city deciding whether to allow a landmark former church on the Upper West Side to be converted to condominiums. Now, we can report that the developer has withdrawn the plan for 361 Central Park West. That plan initially called for 39 units, but was scaled down to 35. The structure was built in 1903 as the First Church of Christ, Scientist of New York City. It received designation as an individual landmark in 1974.
A source tells YIMBY that the developer, listed as 361 Central Park West LLC, withdrew the plan in the face of likely rejection by the Board of Standards and Appeals, which had to approve waivers necessary for the conversion. The process at the BSA started in late March 2015, after an already lengthy process at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
As for those waivers, the developer was seeking them those on the basis of five hardships. As we reported back in early December, the first was that there are unique physical conditions, including irregularity, narrowness or shallowness of lot size or shape, etc. make it impossible to comply with existing zoning. Second, that those physical conditions mean that there is no possibility of a reasonable return under current conditions. Third, that if a variance is granted, it “will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district.” Fourth, that the hardships are not the applicant’s fault. Fifth, that the variance sought is the minimum required to achieve reasonable return on the property.
At that time, attorney Michael Hiller, representing the Central Park West Neighbors Association, called the hardship application “considerable hubris.”
The conversion plan faced considerable community opposition and Hiller sees its withdrawal as a victory.
“Landmark buildings, especially churches, should never be converted to residential use. They are important public assets which help maintain our collective identity,” he told YIMBY Monday evening. “So, this is a victory, not only for the Upper West Side and the members of the Church’s Congregation who fought valiantly to preserve the Church, but for all New Yorkers who believe that our history is valuable and that landmark buildings should be preserved and protected.”
While this finally marks the conclusion of a very long process for this plan, it leaves the future of this wonderful structure up in the air. As we said yesterday, we do hope it gets put to some use in the near future. Located at 96th Street and Central Park West, directly across the street from Central Park, it’s a fantastic location for something, whether it’s another church, a museum, or something entirely else.