Faced with stiff neighborhood opposition, the Ramaz Lower School on East 85th Street has withdrawn its controversial application for variances from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, The Jewish Week has learned.
Jeff Mulligan, executive director at the BSA, confirmed the withdrawal Tuesday.
The latest development effectively pulls the plug on plans to erect a 355-foot mixed-use tower, with 18 floors of luxury condominiums atop a newly built Lower School, which is adjacent to Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. The project called for the stacking of air rights above the synagogue to increase the height of the tower.
“We’re exploring different options that might be feasible,” said Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, senior rabbi at Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue and principal of Ramaz. “We still need to upgrade the main synagogue, which was built 106 years ago, and have to upgrade the school building in some way.”
Rabbi Lookstein attributed the withdrawal of the application to rising construction costs. “The cost of construction in New York City has made the project so expensive as to be unfeasible at the present time,” he said. “It would be imprudent for us to go ahead with it without exploring all of our options.”
Opponents of the Ramaz tower don’t buy the institution’s explanation.
“It may be true that costs spun out of control,” said Thomas Blum, head of the ad-hoc committee, Neighbors Opposed to Ramaz Tower. “But the reason they withdrew was obviously because they knew it wouldn’t get approved.”
Blum said the withdrawal wasn’t a surprise. “The plan fell down under its own weight,” he says. “The way we viewed this project all along was that the project was driven by very wealthy real estate developers who felt they could get something extra by teaming up with a nonprofit. But the BSA and the community had no interest, no matter how favorable a reputation Ramaz has, in opening a gaping loophole in zoning laws.”
Lo van der Valk, president of the Upper East Side community group Carnegie Hill Neighbors, which had vocally opposed the tower’s construction, said that the group is “guardedly pleased” with the news.
“Nobody’s popping champagne bottles,” he said. The group expects Ramaz to come up with another plan. “We just hope that they will involve the wider community in a timely fashion,” he said, “and that they will not exceed the various allowed zoning envelopes that would require variances from the Board of Standards and Appeals.”
Ramaz was tight-lipped about its plans. “The matter has not yet been decided upon by the executive committees, let alone the board,” said Rabbi Lookstein, who said he hopes that by the end of the summer Ramaz and KJ will have made a final decision regarding how to proceed.
“We have the ability to resubmit [to the BSA] at some time in the future if we decide to do so,” he said.