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Extell's Contested Tower Next To Park Ave. Church Is A Go

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It took a bit of fighting. But with its properties and air rights, the Upper East Side's Park Avenue Christian Church has enabled a new neighbor—a residential apartment building—and in so doing has secured the funds (some $25 million) to keep afloat, thanks to Gary Barnett's Extell Development Company and Tuesday's go-ahead vote by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The approved structure for 1010 Park Avenue, adjacent to the church at the corner of 85th Street, will be 16 stories tall and rise 210 feet. In addition to its residential floors, it will have space for church functions, as it will take over space currently occupied by the church annex.

The Park Avenue Christian Church (then known as the South Church or South Reformed Dutch Church) was designed by Bertram Goodhue of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson and completed at the southwest corner of Park Avenue and East 85th Street, along with a rectory and parish hall to the south along the avenue, in 1911. In 1963, the rectory and parish hall were heavily modified and in-filled, leaving only a small portion of the original rectory façade in place.

It was that façade that was a major point of contention when the proposal was heard over the course of a two-part LPC hearing in October and December. The commissioners and many members of the community wanted it retained. Architect John Beyer of the preservation-savvy firm Beyer Blinder Belle said they did extensive work attempting to find a way to keep it. In the end, they came up with a way to "interpret" it for three stories of the façade of the new building, which will re-use the current façade's stone. If more stone is needed, Beyer said several quarries can supply the required material. It will even re-use the entryway.

Also added is a 21-foot recess of the north side of the building (see visual, below right). This will allow a better view of the church from the south on Park Avenue, another concern last time. This will also allow more natural light into the church. There is also a terrace on the rear of the building, which will allow more light into that part of the church.

Another issue last time was the new ADA-compliant entrance on the north side of the church. The proposal was to carve a new doorway that would lead to a lift. Commissioner Michael Goldblum preferred the idea of a ramp, which would not irrevocably change the church. This was actually rendered as an option last time, but this time they went with the new door. In the end, it was decided that the applicant would work with the LPC staff to construct a ramp so as not to cut into the building.

An additional concern was the height of the two set-back penthouse floors, totaling about 33 feet. Commissioner Christopher Moore suggested reducing the floor heights to 14 feet. It was decided that the applicant would work with LPC staff to see if a height reduction can be agreed upon. Of course, it's in Extell's interest to make those ceilings as high as possible, thereby making them more valuable to (and expensive for) prospective buyers.

While the commissioners approved the proposal with neat unanimity (6-1), they did have some reservations. Commissioner Roberta Washington still wanted the fragment of the old annex saved, but if you accept that that isn't possible, this proposal is a "runner-up" and was the sole vote against it. Goldblum said the "recess is an improvement," but still called his yes vote a "reluctant one." Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the "very unique site" presented an "intriguing challenge," but that this design works. Commissioner Diana Chapin called the proposal "creative" and "successful." Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron called it "thorough," and said "exceptional" effort was expended to produce it. Commissioner John Gustafsson said the revised design shows off "enough" of the church's dimensionality.

Srinivasan said that a number of elected officials—she didn't specify which ones—asked that the period for public input be extended. What that means: The first time someone applies for what is called a "certificate of appropriateness," a "public hearing" is held. The applicant presents his or her proposal, public testimony is given, and the commissioners discuss. If no action is taken (say, the proposal is not approved), the applicant can come back with revisions based on the comments from the commissioners and the public. That second session is called a "public meeting," but public testimony is not allowed. The reasoning is that the comments of the public have already been heard in the first session, and the commissioners have taken them into account. If the revision is drastic—as in, so drastic that it goes back before the community board again, which happens before that first public hearing— then a new public hearing might be held. In this case, Srinivasan said the revisions weren't dramatic enough to consider the proposal entirely new. So the request for another public hearing was denied.

—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Extell's 16-Story Park Ave. Buiding Fails To Impress Landmarks [Curbed]
· Extell to Pay Park Ave. Church $25M to Build Contested Tower [Curbed]
· Opponents Lambast Plan To Replace Parts of Park Ave. Church [Curbed]
· All 1010 Park Avenue coverage [Curbed]
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]