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Upper East Side Co-op and Church in a War of Inches

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Redeemer Presbyterian Church, co-op, access agreement, as-of-right development.

The co-op's property line, at right, is the scene of a dispute with a church that will be built next door.

Feb. 3, 2023

New York is a very big city where problems can come down to a matter of a few feet. Or inches.

Redeemer, a deep-pocketed Presbyterian church planning a new home on the Upper East Side, is warring with a next-door co-op, 160 E. 91st, over how close a wall will be in relation to apartment windows. According to plans, Crain's reports, the new church wall will stand three feet from the edge of the co-op. But the co-op is urging Redeemer to build the wall eight feet away, to better preserve light and air. Only in New York: a war over 60 inches of real estate.

This war has cast a light on an organization that seems to be bucking the trends affecting many churches. As many city congregations shrink and sell while their membership dwindles, the 44-year-old Redeemer has tacked in the opposite direction, building large and pricey new sites, and becoming a real estate force in the process. To wit: the nonprofit church shelled out $29.5 million for its Upper East Side site before development even started.

“This is an extremely wealthy church,” co-op shareholder Jack Speer said at a recent meeting of the development committee of Manhattan Community Board 8, when about a dozen neighbors spoke in opposition to the project. “I don’t think our requests as neighbors are unreasonable,” added Speer, who about a year ago bought an apartment in the co-op that has windows the church would allegedly cast shadows upon.

The two sides were unable to work out an access agreement, which landed them in court. The church sued the co-op last fall to gain access to its property to install construction equipment, a case that appears to have been resolved this month in favor of Redeemer, as such cases usually are in developer-friendly New York City.

“The church project is literally and figuratively squeezing me out of my house,” says Diane Forgione, who lives in a small studio that has only two windows, both of which will face the new church wall, which will be either three feet or eight feet away. “The church is showing us no mercy.”

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