Midtown’s Central Synagogue wins variance

Opponents of Central Synagogue’s enlargement cited concerns about location of entrance for synagogue’s breakfast for the homeless program. Central Synagogue applied to BSA for a variance to build a two-story addition on top of its nine-story Community House at 123 East 55th Street, which is across the street from the synagogue’s sanctuary. The Community House is one of four tax lots that were merged into a single 17,321 sq.ft. zoning lot. The other buildings on the zoning lot include the 36- story Fitzpatrick Hotel to the east of the Community House and a five-story townhouse to its west.

The synagogue’s plan included adding 7,129 sq.ft. of floor area to the existing building, potentially reconfiguring its front entrance, and adding new side windows. The synagogue needed a variance because the plan would exceed the maximum floor area and violate height and setback regulations. Because of the shared zoning lot, Central Synagogue needed consent from all the owners on the lot in order to file its application. Central Synagogue was unable to obtain consent from the hotel, so it also requested that BSA waive its consent rule.

At BSA, the synagogue argued that it needed to add the two floors in order to accommodate its congregation’s needs. In the last 40 years the synagogue’s membership has increased from 1,000 to 6,000, and its activities have expanded to include community outreach, including educational facilities and a breakfast for the homeless program. The synagogue claimed the building’s footprint was too small to provide enough room for an indoor recreation area for children and permanent space for adult education.

The owners of the hotel and the townhouse opposed the proposal. The hotel and townhouse both expressed concern about the location of the breakfast program’s entrance and requested that the synagogue not put it near either of their buildings. The townhouse owner also cited concerns that its fourth and fifth floor units would lose their privacy because of the proposed windows. The hotel’s owner raised concerns that the proposal would interfere with its right to install and maintain windows under a private zoning lot merger declaration and argued that BSA cannot ignore the terms of the declaration.

BSA waived the consent rule and granted the variance. It found that Central Synagogue maintained the “spirit” of the consent rule because it notified the hotel of the proposal and made a good faith attempt at acquiring the hotel’s consent. As for the variance, BSA stated that the synagogue, as a religious institution, was entitled to deference and that its needs could not be met under a complying development plan. BSA noted that the synagogue had modified its plan, including eliminating a requested sky exposure plane waiver and agreeing to use obscured glass in the new windows in order to address the townhouse’s privacy concerns. BSA also noted that it was not required to follow a private agreement made between tax lot owners.

BSA: 123 East 55th Street (247-09-BZ) (Feb. 23, 2010) (Michael Sillerman, for Central Synagogue). CITYADMIN

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