One wouldn’t look twice at the brownstones on West 86th Street if they weren’t in the middle of a neighborhood controversy.
The tenants who live inside will likely have to leave because the buildings’ new owner, a prominent Jewish organization, doesn’t want to use them for apartments anymore.
Chabad of the Upper West Side plans to put its preschool and synagogue there instead.
“I have nothing against religion or any group expanding. In order to survive, you have to expand,” said Upper West Side resident Robert Sands. “The problem is they’ve found themselves in a situation which is really inappropriate. It’s inappropriate to do the expansion here at this location.”
Sands has lived in a rent stabilized apartment in the neighborhood for 28 years. He says Chabad’s expansion is inappropriate not only because the buildings are landmarked, but when Chabad moves in, Sands and his neighbors will have to move out and no one knows where.
“It’s hard to plan one’s life when you have this sword hanging over one’s head,” said Sands.
Chabad is asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to approve a rooftop addition and another in the rear yard. That part isn’t sitting well with people on West 87th Street whose homes would abut Chabad.
“The effect of what’s going in here will greatly damage our life experience and the quality of life,” said Upper West Side resident Eric Wynne.
City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents the area, says she isn’t coming down on anyone’s side just yet.
“You have the stakeholders of the tenants, the stakeholders of the people who live on the back side of a changed building on West 87th Street and you have the stakeholders of the Chabad,” said Brewer. “So it’s quite a challenging situation.”
Anxious tenants say they haven’t been given any details, including a timeline.
Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesperson for Chabad, says the group has, in fact, done community outreach including making offers to help the tenants relocate.
“Frankly, the Chabad of the Upper West Side has gone out of its way to work with community leaders and others to come up with a plan that is much less severe than other projects that have occurred,” said Sheinkopf.
“Even though they say they’re communicating with us, it’s not true,” said Upper West Side resident Doris Mirescu.
The local community board has already voted against the project, but what matters now is what the city thinks. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to take up the issue again in the next few weeks.