Community Board 4 opposes seminary's building plans
Community Board 4 last night unanimously approved the drafting of letters to the City Planning Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Commission opposing the plans of the General Theological Seminary in Chelsea for the construction of a new 17-story building that would contain facilities for the institution and 82 cooperative apartments.
The board noted that “Although there is not yet anything before our Board, the importance of the issue and the concerns of the community compel us to issue this preliminary statement on the matter.”
The seminary gave the board a presentation of its plans November 21 but has not yet officially submitted its plans to the city. Walter Mangoff, a member of the board, however, said last night that plans will probably be heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission next month.
The seminary wants to replace Sherrill Hall, a low-rise building designed in 1960 by O’Connor & Kilham along Ninth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets that is part of the full-block campus that extends to Tenth Avenue and is one of the major landmarks of Chelsea and is flanked on the side-streets by some of the best townhouses in the neighborhood.
The seminary is in the Chelsea Historic District. The General Theological Seminary gave a presentation of its plans to the board November 21 at which time the Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing, Dean and President of the seminary, said it was "at a critical moment in its 190-year history" and is faced with "urgent problems." He said that Sherrill Hall and other structures "are severely damaged." He said that since 1999, the seminary has spent $9 million on restoration but “needs $50 million to $60 million” to preserve its buildings.
The seminary’s buildings enclose attractive gardens and the seminary’s block has about 240,000 square feet of unused air-rights and the proposed building would use only about 185,000 square feet of them.
The Polshek Partnership is the architect for the new building, which would include 50,000 square feet for the seminary’s library and offices and 135,000 square feet of apartment space. The developer is the Brodsky Organization.
The base of the proposed building would continue the 51 1/2-foot-high brownstone street-walls of the campus and the southwest corner at 21st Street would have the brownstone cladding rise up much of the height of the new building, which will be covered mostly in glass.
Most of those speaking in opposition at the November 21 meeting and at last night’s meeting were concerned about the height of the building, despite the fact that it is the same height as a 1928 apartment tower just across Ninth Avenue. The new tower would be a bit higher than the seminary’s church spire in the center of the block.
About a dozen speakers spoke in opposition to the seminary’s plans at last night’s meeting and no representatives from the seminary were present.
The draft of the board’s letter maintained that it needed details about the seminary’s “current and projected GTS finances, especially how the costs of repairing the and maintaining the existing historic buildings are to be funded; how the revenue steam from the project is to be divided among the parties; detailed rehabilitation cost projections, pro forma cost and income data on buildings of various size and height, additional engineering data on Sherrill Hall, etc.”
“The Board,” it continued, “is very seriously concerned about maintaining the 75-foot height restrictions of the Chelsea Plan in the Historic District, and that the built form of the Chelsea community and the integrity of the Historic District and its heart, the General Theological Seminary block, remain intact….We are deeply concerned that this proposal will, if successful, form a dangerous precedent and contribute to the reduction of the rich diversity of the community.”
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