September 19 Community Coalition Meeting

On Monday, September 19th over 200 residents of Morningside Heights met with local elected officials to voice their concerns regarding over-development in their community. Both JTS, UTS and Savanna, the development group that bought air rights from JTS, had been invited to the September 19 meeting to work with and explain to the community their development positions, though non chose to attend, claiming that their plans were not finalized.

Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, Council Member Mark Levine and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, all spoke at our meeting and expressed support as well as concrete ideas as to how to proceed. They promised to work with us and thanked everyone present for being there, as it showed how serious an issue this was to all of them. As Council Member Levine said,

“It is important to know that as we fight on the issues raised here this evening, that this community is strongly behind us.”

The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Union Theological Seminary (UTS) are in the midst of development deals which will result in two outsize towers, one at 40 stories and the other at 32 stories. Both of these projects will only have luxury units. Currently three large scale buildings are due for construction between 120th Street and 122nd Street. These buildings are being planned and constructed with no zoning impediments due to an outdated zoning status in Morningside Heights. None of these projects include any affordable housing and when we raised this with each of them, they stated that they had no plans to add any.

Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell noted,

“What makes Morningside Heights truly beautiful is the diversity of its people. Unchecked development such as the proposed buildings by JTS and UTS, especially without community input, has the potential to disrupt the neighborhood’s ability to serve a diverse community. It’s essential that JTS and UTS listen to and incorporate the concerns of our community members in their plans.”

Aside from aesthetic concerns with these non-contextual projects, neither JTS nor UTS have addressed the community’s concerns regarding the additional strain this development will place on already overcrowded schools, transportation, and other crumbling urban infrastructure. The JTS project, currently in demolition phase, has been the source of constant noise and air pollution, at times blanketing the area in dust clouds that force neighbors to keep windows shut or risk having the dust infiltrate their homes. These two new “towers of babel” would potentially become the tallest structures in the area, overshadowing the majestic grandeur of Riverside Church’s steeple- an Upper Manhattan landmark.

Council Member Mark Levine said,

“This is a neighborhood with an incredible architectural legacy, with a very human scale that is not just home to major educational institutions, but it’s a neighborhood where thousands of people live.”

A presentation was made by MHCC Executive Board Member Robert Stern about the 24 “soft sites” that currently exist in our neighborhood. These are lots that are either low buildings (like Rite Aid on 110th Street or empty lots or low buildings where air rights could be obtained and used by developers to add stories to their plans and thus create more towers). The fact that we have so many sites speaks to the urgency of needing to be rezoned as fast as possible. We have established a zoning committee and encourage people who are interested in this issue to join. You can do so on the “Advocacy” page of our website (

Chair of the Health and Safety Committee, Kyle Haber, spoke about how the demolition at the JTS site was impacting on all of us and is particularly bad for seniors and children. This committee will monitor, and meet with, developers as building commences in each project. We are looking for new members, so please sign up in the advocacy section of the website.

And speaking of which….

Please go to the “Advocacy” page of our website and sign up for a committee, sign our petitions, contact the developers and let them know how you feel. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to be, please go to the “Contact” page and fill out the form.

And for your ease of use! Here is a direct link to the Committee sign up form:

And another direct link to sign the petitions:

  1. To the City Planning Commission (CPC):
  1. The current developers:

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