Chabad Expansion Voted Down

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For the second time in a month, Community Board 7 voted down a plan that would alter buildings in a landmark district, a proposal that neighbors characterized as an out-of-context expansion.

The plan, submitted by the Chabad of the West Side Synagogue and Pre-School, would reconfigure two historic brownstones into a day school on West 86th Street. On June 2, the full board voted down the application to restore the facades and reconstruct the interiors at 43-45 W. 86th St.

Board 7 made a similar decision in May regarding The Dwight School’s proposed rear-year expansion. Like the Dwight proposal, Chabad’s plans are “as-of-right,” but neighbors question whether the renovations were appropriate for the landmarked neighborhood. One difference between the two proposals, however, is that residents are still living in the two brownstones that Chabad wants to renovate.

Doris Mirescu, a tenant at 45 W. 86th St., refuses to leave her apartment, despite receiving an eviction notice. Mirescu, who has resided in the building for 12 years, says she is one of eight tenants still living there.

A view looking down into the rear courtyard of 45 W. 86th St. shows some of the properties that would be affected by the Chabad plan. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

A view looking down into the rear courtyard of 45 W. 86th St. shows some of the properties that would be affected by the Chabad plan. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

“It’s very disconcerting to us that the building was sold and we were going to be thrown out of our homes,” said Mirescu, a rent-stabilized tenant. “It was just a shocking thing because this is a beautiful building and an extraordinary example of 19th-century architecture.”

While Mirescu does not oppose building a school, she believes the changes will negatively impact the mostly residential neighborhood.

“We need schools and we should build schools, but I think there are other buildings that are completely appropriate for it,” she said. “These buildings are residential and are meant to be homes.”

Eric Wynne, whose home on West 87th Street directly faces the backs of the two brownstones, is also concerned.

“The back of the building is metal and glass. If you live on 87th Street and look out at that, you’ll be inundated with light,” said Wynne, referring to Chabad’s models of the proposed changes.

Board 7’s chair, Helen Rosenthal, agreed that the negatives outweighed the positives.

“The Chabad’s application raises a number of tangential and complicated issues which were discussed at length at the CB7 Full Board meeting,” said Rosenthal, pointing to demolition of the buildings’ interiors, expansion into the rear-yard area and the presence of existing tenants. “Ultimately, one might say that the Landmark [Preservation Commission]’s criteria for ‘appropriateness’ are subjective and a majority of the board voted against the Chabad’s application.”

Chabad only needs approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but some community members plan to continue their protests by writing letters to the commission, Mirescu said.

“They haven’t been communicating with us,” Mirescu said of Chabad. “They just send us threatening letters. It’s been a very big struggle for us. We have no idea whom we should talk to.”

However, Chabad spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf said the synagogue has made its plans transparent.

“The synagogue is planning an expansion of two brownstones so more kids can go to day school,” Sheinkopf said. “The plans have been discussed with members of the community for a period of time. The facades will be protected and the plans as proposed are certainly far less intrusive than those that have been proposed by nonprofit entities in the community.”

Sheinkopf pointed to a rear-yard construction project completed by Bard Graduate Center, at 18 W. 86th St. He said that Chabad made sure that the proposal it submitted to Board 7 was less intrusive than what Bard first submitted to the board for its project.

The commission, which held a public hearing on the plan on May 17, is expected to comment in coming months, according to spokesperson Elisabeth de Bourbon. It has yet to set a date to vote.

Council Member Gale Brewer also plans to hold an informational meeting.

“We’re putting together a meeting with the different city agencies to talk to the neighbors so they understand what the zoning laws are,” Brewer said.      n

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  • Jefrey Rosenbloom

    Stop with all the nonsense! Chabad is an asset to the west side community and the planned renovations will only enhance the look of 86th street. It baffles me, how much brain power is wasted on trying to stop one of the west sides most exciting upgrades architecturally, and for the community at large.

  • Ted Gooden

    I’m curious why my comment in response to this story is no longer posted? And since my posting last week, I see one posting from a Mr. Jefrey Rosenbloom, whom I would like to ask: (i) do you live on the block? (ii) do you have any affiliation (paid or member) with Chabad?; (iii) do you want the historic, residential buildings on your block demolished and replace with a community center for +400 people?; (iv) do you think that Chabad has acted in an ethical manner in it strategy for development? (v) do you believe that #47 would also be demolished by Chabad; and wouldn’t they have a responsibility to tell the neighbors if they had such aspirations?

    For the record, I will re-post my previous comment:

    As a resident of West 87th street for 12 years, and Chairman of the block association, I felt it important to add additional context to your story on the Chabad expansion on West 86th Street.

    The residents of our block are entirely opposed to this development for several reasons, including: (i) the character of buildings is not consistent with its intended historic usage as a residence; (ii), the expansion plans call for a complete demolition of the buildings behind the facade to insert an over-sized facility for several hundred people; (iii), the style of the architecture is designed as a largely glass facade, which is not in synch with the character of the back of any of the buildings on the block; (iv), the synagogue, and patio above it, is build where a garden should grown and will create unwelcomed noise for the hundreds of residents with exposure to the backs of west 86th and 87th streets.

    The facility is much more like a community center and synagogue than a school, causing appropriateness of use, congestion, and noise concerns. From a technical perspective, a local architect has submitted a detailed critique of the Chabad’s architectural plans to Gail Brewer and Landmarks specifying the numerous ways in which the structure is inconsistent with the character of the block. And we are concerned that the plans point to probable demolition and expansion of the building adjacent to the west, which would cause 50% more over-development, and question why we (nor Landmarks) have not been informed of such later plans.

    Finally, it is also important for readers and local residents to know that the community board and its special committee resoundingly voted against the expansion in recent meetings. This development simply isn’t appropriate for 43-45 West 86th Street.

    For all of those living on the block, please take the time to rally and voice our opposition to the following:

    Robert Tierney, Commissioner
    Landmarks Preservation Commission
    Municipal Building
    1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
    NY, NY 10007

    Tel: 212-669-7817
    fax: 212-669-3844


    Gale Brewer
    District Office
    563 Columbus Ave (at 87th St.)
    New York, New York 10024
    Tel: 212-873-0282
    Fax: 212-873-0279

    Please join us in the garden across the street from 70 West 87th Street, this Tuesday, June 24th at 7pm to discuss your concerns about this project.

    - Ted

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  • west 87th street chairmna

    The residents of these buildings and neighbors of the potential monstrosity have been informed that the landlord (and benefactor of Chabad) is giving up and offering leases to the residents.

    This would be welcome news for almost all in the neighborhood.  I cannot honestly say I believe it given some of the practices of this organization, but it would be the right solution.

    The west 87th street block association will remain vigilant in its protection of its neighborhood.

    So after winning the vast majority votes to block this terrible project from all levels: from community boards, to landmarks and everywhere in between, Mayor Bloomberg’s secret deal with Chabad may now be undone!  

    Hooray for justice!  But, remain vigilant neighbors!!!