Thursday, February 08, 2007

Development at St. John's Breaks Ground

Columbia Spectator

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Development at St. John's Breaks Ground
Committee Collects 1,300 Signatures From Residents to Oppose Apartment Complex
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 2/9/07 Section: News

Correction AppendedAt a ceremonial ground breaking held today at the site of the future Avalon Morningside Park development, developers, elected officials, and congregation members of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine gathered to announce the beginning of construction.

The event, however, was something of a false start, as construction on the housing development will likely not begin until mid-March, according to Avalon Bay Companies Development Director for the project, Rachel Lobe. Avalon Bay Companies, a New York real estate developer, leased land from St. John the Divine and has been discussing plans to build an apartment building for over a year. Although the physical plans have changed little, the company has decided to set aside 20 percent of the housing units for affordable housing.

"It was a response to both the comments we heard from the local community and the elected officials," Lobe said.

The project plans have drawn criticism from some community preservationists and cathedral members, since much of St. John the Divine's 11.3 acre property is land marked for historic preservation. Despite several attempts by the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee to repeal the Landmark Preservation Commission's decision, the land Avalon Bay Companies now leases was excluded from landmark status.

Carolyn Kent, chair of Community Board 9's Parks and Landmarks Committee, and other members of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee gathered 1,300 signatures from local residents on a petition opposing the development.

"We will continue to work against the construction of such an inappropriate building. It's inappropriate both in its purpose, which is profit taking luxury housing, and in its architectural design, which will dwarf the scale and finesse and Gothic design of the cathedral's ancillary buildings," Kent said.

Scheduled to be completed in January, 2009, the Avalon Morningside Park development will be 20 stories high with 299 apartments and will cost roughly $126 million to build. According to Lobe, early construction will mostly involve rock removal to clear space for the foundation.

Correction. The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Avalon Bay had purchased land from the Cathedral. It controls the land on a ninety-nine year lease.

NB - Well I see that on line the Spectator has corrected at least part of the story printed. However the article still slanted to gives the impression that the protest was a CB9M action and that the protesting Committee might be a CB9M Committee. I did not see any protesters nor any Spectaro reporter at the ceremonies or when I left the event.

Mrs Kent is indeed still the CB9M Co-Chair of the Parks & Entretainment / Landmarks & Preservation Committee, however, any statments Mrs Kent has made and any action she has taken are stricly and exclusively in her private capacity and as a member of another organization and her statements and actions are in no way are a reflection of any position or action taken by CB9M or our Parks & Landmarks Committe or authorized by the CB9M Chairman.

In fact, I, as CB9M Chairman, had the pleasure of sitting next to the Dean of the Cathedral and Suffragant Bishop during the ceremonies where our Assembly Member, the Honorable Daniel O'Donnell spoke supporting the project and the struggles of the community to obtain additonal housing particularly affordable housing. Representative of several of the District's elected officials were also present as well as Council Member Melissa Viverito-Marks.

CB9M has not taken any position on this project as it is an "as of right" project. Mrs. Kent is not authorized to speak on behalf of CB9M or the Committee and in this case her affiliation with CB9M is purely accidental and marginal at best, to the protest effected by the protesting "Committee" mentioned which is NOT a CB9M committee.

The Church Cathedral has a right to long term net lease the land in question as they owne it, and the developer has the right to build "as of right" - CB9M has no say on the matter.

Furthermore as CB9M Chairman, I was invited to the ground breaking ceremonies and I proudly attended as I have done so many other similar occasions during my terms as Chairman. - JRM

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