Church Plan Draws Heat, East Side Residents Urge: ‘Love Thy Neighbor’

Public comment during community board 8’s Jan. 18 meeting centered around qualms with plans for a Presbyterian church to be built abutting the co-op at 160 East 91st Street

| 24 Jan 2023 | 10:07

Plans to erect a church at 150 East 91st Street would do away with a generous gap that used to exist between the building formerly at that address, now demolished, and 160 East 91st Street, according to residents of the pre-war co-op apartment building.

“There had always been a 15-foot recess, serving as a light well,” Melanie Gersten, a 160 East 91st Street resident and shareholder, said during the public session of Community Board 8’s full-board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Manny Gordon, another tenant, put his plea for more space in terms the church would understand: “We just simply ask the church to love thy neighbor — love thy neighbor and be somewhat compassionate.”

The building that previously stood at 150 East 91st Street was set back from the property line, according to Nicholas David, a construction partner at the law firm Troutman Pepper who counts the church as one of his clients. Now, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which purchased the property for $29.5 million in 2020, is planning to build right up to that threshold, as part of a project that is “fully as of right, and permitted and approved,” David told Our Town. A three foot wide light well will be all that’s left, since it exists on the co-op’s land, where the apartment building is distanced from the property line.

In 2021, the church shared construction plans with neighbors in the co-op building and conducted a reevaluation after hearing their input — though ultimately, no downsizing was possible. “The [Department of Buildings] allows build to the full lot size,” David said. “If that were not the case, Redeemer would not have purchased the lot because it would not meet the needs of the project.”

Since then, communication has become fraught, with a legal battle over the installation of temporary protection structures required for safe construction. During CB8’s full-board meeting, co-op residents were unwavering in their discontent.

The wider gap that once existed between the two addresses was essential, according to residents, for those living in the co-op building’s 24 west-facing units, eight of which are studios with only one window each. “I will be completely devoid of light,” said Diane Forgione, who calls one such studio apartment home. “I will have no ability to open my window and circulate my apartment with fresh air.”

Forgione, 56, worries that decreasing the space between the apartment building and the church, slated to reach over 10 stories tall, could pose a safety hazard in the event of a fire. David said the concern hadn’t been raised in previous communication with the co-op’s architect and emphasized that “the new building is designed to meet all required building and fire codes, regarding the separation of adjacent buildings.”

Multiple residents of 160 East 91st Street commented that the plans would also negatively impact the value of their apartments, saying they had repeatedly asked for what Gersten described as a more “modest” gap.

Further discussion of the issue was scheduled for a Zoning and Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

“We just simply ask the church to love thy neighbor — love thy neighbor and be somewhat compassionate.” Manny Gordon, a resident of the co-op at 160 East 91st Street