Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
- Subject: [cg] Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
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- Date: Wed, 05 Apr 2006 14:23:05 -0400
New York Times
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
Published: April 4, 2006
A 20-story, 300-unit rental apartment building would rise on the southeast corner of the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine under a deal nearing completion between the cathedral's trustees and AvalonBay Communities Inc.
The building, which would partly block views of the cathedral from the Manhattan Valley neighborhood below, is the first of two potential development projects on the 11.3-acre Close, as the grounds are known.
Clad in brick along Cathedral Parkway, with a metal-and-glass facade rounding the corner to Morningside Drive, the new building would replace a playground, a rose garden and a rocky embankment that now sit behind a chain-link fence. The play area would move to a spot alongside the cathedral nave and the garden would be shifted slightly westward. A 150-space parking garage would be built under the apartment building.
Because of the steep change of grade, the building would rise 165 feet, or 17 stories, above the Close, and 204 feet, or 20 stories, above the street corner. It would not block views along Amsterdam Avenue, from which most visitors approach.
One critic of the plan, Jane Churchman, a former editor of the cathedral's quarterly newsletter, said, "We are witnessing a triumph of corporate capitalism over this great cathedral, which had been set high upon a hill that it not be obscured by corporate and institutional towers."
She added, "Secular development will obscure the vision of the cathedral and create a cognitive dissonance no matter what the architectural style of the new development."
But the dean of the Episcopal cathedral, the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, said the income from this parcel and another on the north side of the Close might generate up to $5 million annually to support the cathedral's mission, helping the cash-starved institution increase its small endowment, undertake deferred maintenance and meet operating costs.
"It is part of our ongoing effort to be stewards," he said.
The unfinished cathedral, running a debt of up to $1 million a year and facing up to $20 million in maintenance expenses, would lease a 32,000-square-foot corner parcel to AvalonBay for 99 years, realizing about $2.5 million annually for the first 20 years.
Construction of the $125 million building might begin this year, said Frederick S. Harris, a senior vice president of AvalonBay.
Dean Kowalski said the building would bring needed rental apartments to a market dominated by condominiums, enliven the neighborhood and add to the city's property tax rolls, since the AvalonBay parcel has been carved out of the tax-exempt Close as a separate taxpaying lot.
Rents in the building would be market rate, probably more than $40 a square foot annually, Mr. Harris said. For a 900-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, that would work out to at least $3,000 a month. There would also be studio, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments.
The building size was determined in part by design controls drawn up by the cathedral in an agreement with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, under which the two development parcels would not be considered for landmark status. Columbia University has an option to lease the north parcel.
In 2003, the commission designated the cathedral itself a landmark. The City Council overturned the designation four months later. Right now, the rest of the Close, including Greek Revival and Gothic-style buildings around the cathedral, technically remains on the commission's calendar for future consideration.
Frances Halsband, a partner in R. M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects, which designed the new building, said it would be 35 feet lower than the design controls would have permitted, slightly below the gabled roof of the cathedral nave. The faceted facade and open space at the building's base are meant to complement nearby Morningside Park, she said.
The entrance and lobby will be at Cathedral Parkway and Morningside Drive. There will be no entrance from the Close.
The 240-foot-long facade facing the cathedral will be clad in a gray-buff brick for the first four stories on the Close side, matching the nearby Diocesan House in color and some architectural details. No other attempt has been made to imitate or even emulate the architectural styles around the Close.
The upper floors will be glass and aluminum panels. "The building should be reflective and lighter looking as it meets the sky," Ms. Halsband said. "That's a Gothic principle. A tall masonry building would not work as well."
A preservation-oriented critic, Carolyn C. Kent, a founding member of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, said the apartment building "would insult and trivialize the majestic cathedral."
"It would wall out views of the cathedral from the south; wall in, dwarf and darken the cluster of its finely executed ancillary buildings; rob these of their open horizon; disfigure every southeast sightline within the Close," she said.
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