Though some locals and preservation advocates remain staunchly opposed to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine’s controversial plans to build a 15-story apartment building on church grounds, Cathedral representatives said Wednesday that they’re working to amend the plans to reflect the community’s concerns.
At a packed Community Board 9 special meeting, around 60 people came out to hear Cathedral representatives and developers from the Brodsky Organization discuss the latest revision of these plans. After selecting Brodsky in late September following several failed attempts to work with other developers, the Cathedral filed building permit plans with the city in early October.
The project, conceived in January 2012 in an effort to stabilize the Cathedral’s finances, has incited opposition from locals who fear that the development will obscure historic views of the Cathedral. The plans, however, have required many modifications to increase the distance between the building and cathedral and to make the cathedral’s north tower more visible from the street.
The proposed development will occupy the north side of the Cathedral on 113th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. The building will consist of 428 units, 20 percent of which are reserved for affordable housing, ranging from $696-$908 per month. The rest are luxury rentals starting at $1,700 per month.
Construction will likely begin in April or May of next year, said Daniel Brodsky, the head developer for the project.
“I truly hope we’re not perceived as greedy,” Rev. Dr. James Kowalski, the dean of the Cathedral, said. “We’re not doing this to try and grab some extra money. Without this type of income stream, we will live to see the Cathedral close its doors.”
“The Cathedral is facing many pressing maintenance issues at the moment, including the water, the stonework, and the nave roof,” Andrew Dietsche, the Bishop of New York for the Episcopal Diocese, said. “These problems are beyond the capacity for the Church to meet with its limited funds.”
Dietsche stressed during the meeting that the Church is committed to helping the community through this development.
Brodsky said the project would serve the neighborhood by offering affordable housing and job opportunities to local residents. He aims for the work force to include 30 percent minorities, 5 percent women, and 15 percent local residents.
“We’re trying to be good neighbors,” Brodsky said. “We want to include community members in all facets of the construction.”
Gary Handel of Handel Architects, the group responsible for the design, also said that it is trying to accommodate the requests of residents—including that the view of the cathedral from the street remain visible.
In response to this concern, Handel segmented off the southwest corner of the plot to allow for increased visibility of the northern tower. He also made sure that the construction would be 85 feet away from the north transept.
Still, residents said they are unhappy with the plans.
“This apartment building is disrespectful to the spirit of the cathedral,” Walter South, a CB9 member, said. “The two structures will most certainly appear in competition with one another. They’re, in effect, hiding God’s house.”
Laura Friedman, president of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee—a group opposed to the project—also said the development would be out of place.
“We feel that we have a stewardship and responsibility to preserve our community,” she said. “This structure is completely inappropriate for the site.”
The MHHDC is currently petitioning elected officials to combat the construction.
Others said that they were content with the proposal.
“I think it’s really important to save what we’ve got.” Muriel Kneeshaw, a member of the congregation at Saint John the Divine, said. “Without this revenue, the Church won’t be able to meet the spiritual needs of the community.”
Despite the polarization of community members, CB9 chair Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas was pleased with how the meeting went.
“I think the important thing is that we’re all here because we want to preserve and maintain this cathedral,” she told Spectator.