Volume 75, Number 50 | May 3 - 9 2006

Tower may no longer be seminary's salvation"

By Albert Amateau

General Theological Seminary is heeding the outcry by Chelsea neighbors against its proposal for a 17-story mixed-use building to replace the deteriorating four-story Sherrill Hall on the Ninth Ave. side of the campus.

Seminary officials met last week with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and representatives of Community Board 4 and two block associations to talk about alternatives to the plan, which would combine academic uses and residential condos in a building more than twice the 75-foot height limit set for the Chelsea Historic District, which includes the seminary grounds known as The Close.

Although no decisions were reached at the meeting, it was clear the seminary’s plan submitted last December for approval to the Landmarks Preservation Commission will be changed and possible alternatives will become the subject of a public forum to be scheduled for later this month.

“I’m optimistic that we can meet the financial needs of the seminary and satisfy the community, but we may not be able to please everybody,” said the Reverend Ward Ewing, dean of the seminary, in an interview after the meeting

“The seminary seemed to understand the need to make substantial changes to its plans to accommodate community concerns,” Gottfried said this week. “We hope there is a genuine attempt to reduce the size of the project to make it conform to the limits of the historic district.”

G.T.S., a 180-year-old Episcopal divinity school with 145 students, is located on the square block between Ninth and Tenth Aves. from 20th to 21st Sts. and consists of mostly 19th-century buildings in desperate need of restoration.

The four-story Sherrill Hall on Ninth Ave., built in 1959, is in as bad condition as many of the older buildings. The seminary last year engaged The Brodsky Organization as developers and Polshek Partnership, architects, to replace Sherrill Hall with a new building that would bring in $15 million annually for a preservation plan to maintain the campus. The seminary also must raise a total of $25 million to erect the new building on the site of Sherrill Hall and to reconstruct 19th-century buildings on the 10th Ave. side of The Close and build a western entrance for the Tutu Center, a new education and conference center.

But Chelsea neighbors have adamantly opposed the 17-story project on Ninth Ave.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that the community doesn’t like the project we proposed last autumn,” said Maureen Burnley, seminary vice president for finance and operations. In response to the April 27 meeting, G.T.S. is considering developing on open space inside The Close, specifically on a tennis court used by resident students, faculty and their families, Burnley said.

Robert Trentlyon, a Community Board 4 member who attended the April 27 meeting, said seminary representatives also agreed to consider putting retail uses on the ground floor of a new Ninth Ave. project to generate needed revenue that would help keep the project low-rise.

Also at the April 27 meeting were Community Board 4 president Lee Compton and vice president Walter Mankowitz. Ed Kirkland, head of the C.B. 4 Chelsea Planning Committee, also attended, along with Mary Swartz and Leslie Doyle, representing block associations on 20th and 21st Sts. on the north and south side of The Close.

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