Volume 76, Number 45 | April 4 - 10, 2007


G.T.S. détente a welcome sign for Chelsea

The General Theological Seminary opened up a new chapter in its year-and-a-half-long battle with Chelsea neighbors, local elected officials and Community Board 4 on Monday when it abandoned its plans for a proposed 15-story tower on Ninth Avenue.

Residents in and around the Chelsea Historic District, along with other stakeholders in this protracted fight, proclaimed victory and breathed a sigh of relief as the news shot across the neighborhood early this week.

The rejoicing came after the Seminary announced that it will instead replace its antiquated Sherrill Hall, on Ninth Avenue between West 20th and 21st Street, with a seven-story building that conforms to the 75-foot height restriction set forth in the Chelsea 197-a Plan, which set the zoning for the Chelsea Historic District. The downside for G.T.S. is that the new building—which will house a library and income-producing residential space, and will help pay for the construction of a new administration building on 20th Street—will generate no income for the Seminary’s $21 million plan to preserve the rest of its property, as its original and revised tower proposal aimed to achieve.

At 185 years old, G.T.S. is the oldest Episcopal seminary in the nation, an important institution with a storied past that lends enormous character to Chelsea and enhances the neighborhood with its green space, beautiful architecture, good works and progressive values. As such, it has been painful to see the Seminary at loggerheads with a neighboring community that cares about both G.T.S. and the texture of the Chelsea Historic District. The C.H.D. was the result of a hard-fought battle that occurred in several stages, beginning with its adoption in 1970, its extension in 1980, and the passage of 197-a in 1999.

While we are delighted to see a resolution on the contentious Ninth Avenue tower proposal, it is important that the resulting thaw in relations works to the benefit of all parties involved. G.T.S, its neighbors, local elected officials and city agencies now need to come together to explore viable alternatives for solving the Seminary’s $21 million shortfall, money sorely needed to help repair and maintain G.T.S.’s historic buildings, which form the core of the Chelsea Historic District and invariably lend value to the entire neighborhood.

Several alternatives were put forth by various parties over the course of the last year and a half, some of which G.T.S. officials deemed unfeasible, others which G.T.S. opponents argued were viable but ignored by the Seminary. Either way, it is now time for both G.T.S. and the community-at-large to step up and make good on their pledge to work together in good faith and devise a workable solution.

The news of the Seminary’s about-face is fresh, and even G.T.S. officials say they are unsure of the next step. Many questions remain about how the Seminary will make up the shortfall and achieve long-term financial viability. The Tutu Center is certainly one promising move in that direction. But whatever plan is adopted, we hope that it ensures the Seminary’s survival well into the 21st century and beyond.

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