The residents of 160 East 91st Street now have some political weight behind their David vs. Goliath flight against a Redeemer Presbyterian Church, an ultra-wealthy Upper East Side congregation that plans to construct an ostentatious monument to opulence next door which they say will destroy their homes by putting a concrete wall just three feet outside their only windows, where there had previously been 18 feet of space.
Upper East Side elected officials including City Council Member Julie Menin, Assembly Member Alex Bores, State Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine signed a letter to Redeemer calling on the congregation to be a good neighbor in this dispute by being reasonable and at least considering modifying the design of their new 12-story facility, which Upper East Site first reported will be built on every inch of the lot’s space.
“While we understand that this element of the proposed building complies with the applicable zoning laws and building code requirements, we urge you to consider modifying the design of your proposed church so that it does not impinge on the residents of 160 East 91st Street,” reads the letter penned by Council Member Menin to Redeemer East Side’s Executive Director Bruce Terrell.
“The primary requests of residents of 160 East 91st street is a meeting with the church to discuss this issue, a visit by the church’s representatives to assess the impact that these building plans will have on adjacent buildings, and a 5 foot setback to allow light and air into their apartments,” Menin’s letter explains.
While Redeemer Church, nor its lawyer, have responded to Upper East Site’s inquiries, Mr. Terrell did speak publicly during Community Board 8’s full board meeting Wednesday night to say the board had the situation all wrong that that the neighbors homes wouldn’t be destroyed by having their only windows blocked by a giant church built three feet outside their windows which towers over their own building.
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“Overall, we’ve received encouraging responses and positive feedback from community leaders of local organizations and neighbors old and new,” Executive Director Terrell told members of the Community Board with a straight face.
“However, recent allegations have been made by our East neighbors both to the community board and to the media that we believe are unfair and misleading,” Mr. Terrell continued.
“In fact, there are no applicable laws that they pointed to that say these units will be unlivable due to insufficient light and air and our new building complies with all legal requirements regarding fire code and separation of buildings,” Terrell explained during his brief two minutes of testimony, speaking in carefully-measured language with the precision of a litigator and not at all like a compassionate servant of God.
“Based upon our architects review, their light well will be six-times larger than the required minimum,” Terrell added, again not mentioning that the light well will be just three feet — which if his claim is correct, would mean only six inches of space is required between windows and walls.
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It defies logic using this as a talking point unless the intent is to mislead the listener who will only hear ’six-times larger than the required minimum.’
Redeemer Presbyterian Church East Side successfully sued the co-op next door to gain access to the building in order to proceed with their controversial construction plans and had refused to speak before Community Board 8 up until that point.
Now, Terrell promises the church will unveil a “comprehensive presentation” at the next meeting of the Zoning & Development Committee meeting at the end of the month — despite being present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Delays by representatives of Redeemer in appearing before Community Board 8 or attempting to negotiate in good faith actually work in the church’s favor.
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Since the new mega church building is being constructed ‘as-of-right,’ the longer Redeemer keeps officials occupied with anything but actual negotiations with neighbors, the more construction can be complete on the original window-blocking plans the church desires — in turn making it more difficult to alter those plans.
New allegations have also arisen in the letter from elected officials, which says residents accuse Redeemer Presbyterian Church of filing plans “with the Department of Buildings that omitted the light and air well, claimed more square footage than permitted by law, and proposed to erect a cross that will reach 200 feet above street level.”
“Residents argue that zoning laws, however, do not allow signs, religious or otherwise, to be more than 25 feet above street level,” the letter adds.
The Department of Buildings tells Upper East Site “the new building project was approved following a review for compliance with Code and Zoning during [DOB’s] standard Plan Exam process.”
It’s not clear how much Redeemer Presbyterian Church East Side, a religious organization which does not pay income or property taxes, is spending to construct their extravagant new facility — however, records indicate it spent a stunning $29,500,000 for the Upper East Side lot alone back in 2020.
Churches, unlike other non-profit entities that file returns with the IRS, are not required to report any revenue or spending information to the government and serve as untaxed financial black holes.
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