by Beth Grimm –  hoagoverance

Here is the email I am responding to:

“The manager makes all the decisions in our HOA, the board never questions anything. In fact, when any board member asks about something he or she Is quickly put down and or ignored completely. We can’t stand the manager. How can we get rid of the management?”

The Board hires and fires the manager. The owner members do neither, unless the documents governing the association say  something different. The Board does have an obligation to participate, and “administrate”.  It sounds to me like this person might be better off to look at changing or motivating the board before getting rid of the manager, but I could be wrong. Unless you trust the board to step up and stand up, any management will likely be either controlling … Or confused. … Or useless.

And, before doing anything, dust off the contract and see what is says! Owners have a right to review management contracts that are not confidential. And if they are forthcoming from the HOA, or the HOA argues they are confidential, seek legal counsel. Management is not the party to ask. And the contract has meaning. It should outline what the parties are responsible for with regard to management vs administration.

As to how much a manger does, or how much control he or she has, different professionals tout different forms of management. Some argue there is only one right management style where the board is limited to policy setting and management carries it out and handles all day to day activities and makes decisions based on the policies. These believers might be critical of any “hands on” board activity with regard to day to day decisions or interaction with owners – considering it more as interference and discourage or condemn it.

So it could look like management is running the show and shutting the board down when management is actually trying to carry out one form of respected professional management style. And in large HOAs this might be just what is needed. It tends to work better in larger associations because they can’t really be productive and efficient if everyone tries to run the show and no one delegates any of the day to day stuff to those trained specifically to do it. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians used to be the catch phrase but it’s probably politically incorrect to say that today. So I will say instead too many shepherds and not enough sheep can be a problem too (or does that offend the sheep)?

But I digress. If management is overly offensive or defensive in its approach, rather than professional, there may well be managers better equipped to manage. In all HOAs, boards have a responsibility, whether to just set policy and stick to the big decisions, or whether as in many small HOAs, to actually manage the HOA. In any event, the board chooses the manager. Occasionally I see documents that allow the owners to vote on managers, but I don’t write them that way or recommend that. The elected board should choose management and the directors should choose wisely, and take action when management is not satisfactory, either by working to improve the situation or change providers.

Of course if cost is a factor due to a shortage of funds, then owners would end up having a say in whether management is hired. But not WHOM is hired (or is it WHO is hired?) Some English professor is going to ding me.

So here we are back to looking at the Board to see what options are available there – the owners may have to look at getting involved, like running for the board, if there is a belief that management is a problem, because it starts with the Board’s choices. An owner may have to look at rallying the members to push for change in management and if approached the right way, that could be effective.

And remember, you can’t fix people. You can only fix problems, often through actions and change. It is realistic to look for an effective way to either work with the problem people … Or oust them. Don’t waste energy by pointing fingers. Get busy – get involved. Be the change you want to see.

Proactive Property Managers Compete for the Best Clients and Residents

thumb (2)

 by  –

Today’s residential rental housing market grows more competitive with each passing month. Vacancies fill faster than ever, and property owners expect the best management money can buy.
If you’re determined to keep your best clients and residents then you’re probably at least a few steps ahead of your competition. If you’d like to attract new clients and residents you’ll need to do even more.

Let’s begin with property owner clients, the ones you’d like to retain and new ones you want to attract. Create the opportunity to schedule a “meet-and-eat” event with your most important clients.
Yes, you’ll end up buying them a meal, but how much would it cost you to have to replace them? There is nothing more personally galvanizing to a relationship than face-to-face enjoyment of delicious food.

This will be a memorable time to express your gratitude for their business and confidence. Ask them about their plans, concerns, and if there are other ways you can be of service to them.
After they’ve had the opportunity to answer and if they are happy with the way you’re managing their properties, pop the proactive question. “Who else do you know who needs my help?”
Just to be clear, you are asking for a referral in a thoughtful manner. Since successful people tend to have friends and relatives who are also successful, your best clients can give you good introductions.

Ask for their permission to mention that they, your client, suggested the possibility of becoming acquainted. Better still, see if your client would arrange a meeting (tea, lunch, golf) for all concerned.

Your client has the most objective opinion of the quality of your property management business. Let them also introduce and promote the benefits you can offer their friend, colleague or family member.

Now let’s address the idea of keeping and attracting the best quality residents this world has to offer. The way to begin is by identifying who your best quality residents currently are.
This way you identify the attributes you treasure in these important people who help pay for your services each month. Next, find a way to let them know you value them sincerely.

If you have a vacancy or one coming soon, let your best quality residents know ahead of time and then pop the proactive question to them. “Who do you know who would be a great resident like you?”

As all successful property managers realize, if your best residents love living at the properties you manage, they’ll become your best advertisement of the benefits and advantages you offer.
Treat your clients and residents fairly and generously. Then when you ask for their endorsement they’ll be much more likely to give it with enthusiasm.

Stay a step ahead of your competition and prosper!

Green fuzz on buildings is an admission of defeat, says Edwin Heathcote

by Lloyd Alter

rendering vs reality

© Boeri Studio

Hurrah for Edwin Heathcote, the architectural critic for the Financial Times, for writing about The curse of green fuzz on buildings that you see everywhere these days. Heraises the question I did about Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale: whether it will ever actually look anything like the rendering. Heathcote thinks it is a worrisome trend.

That is the question that plagues all these green towers. Will they really ever look like they do on the billboards? The question is important because what this outbreak of green means is that architects and developers are hiding ugly, ill-considered buildings behind curtains of foliage and if the green doesn’t grow, all we’re left with is the dumb, naked towers, blank and expressionless with the fig leaf of a few, well, fig leaves for cover.

garden bridge© Heatherwick Studios via Designboom

After a proper thrashing of the garden bridge, the Sky Garden on top of the Walkie Talkie, and a forest of projects in Paris, he complains again:

We all like green, everybody loves trees, but that is the weakness that is being exploited here. In cloaking their proposals in fluffy flora, developers and architects are attempting a sleight of hand, a misdirection. Even worse, this fashion reveals a collapse in confidence in the language and power of architectural expression. It is an admission of defeat, a retreat from the responsibility of designing elevations to enhance a city through an architecture of intelligence, elegance and intent rather than a kind of straggly green comb-over.

milano© Milano Santa Monica

Reading this feels like a bit of a vindication for me. Back in 2008 I wrote in How Green Was My Balcony that “ lovely renderings of buildings that show a consistent green envelope require a lot of technology and attention and do not often come out looking like the rendering.” I complained about one project which never got off the drawing board, covered with what Heathcote calls “green fuzz”:

One really cannot tell if there are planters in front of the handrails or if it is just sorta stuck there like Christmas decorations. Nor do you know who maintains them, whether each owner is responsible, whether gardeners have rights of entry, or whether they rappel down the exterior of the building.

In fact, on Boeri’s vertical forest, that’s exactly what they do- rappel.

York Square© Zeidler Partnership Architects, who should be ashamed

Heathcote is right, green fuzz is growing like black mould on buildings around the world, even in cities where it is probably too cold for it to grow. The usually talented Zeidler Partnership just fuzzed Toronto with this execrable proposal to sit a condo on a table on top of the historic York Square and yes, it has stuff on the balconies. In Toronto, where the roots will freeze solid.

Over the years I have taken a lot of abuse for what I called greenwrapping, or using green roofs or planting to essentially hide buildings in plain sight, to put them where they don’t belong. Heathcote put it better: “Trees are not a substitute for architecture. Next time you see a billboard or a glossy magazine ad featuring a pubic fuzz of foliage and overflowing vines, look carefully at what is underneath.”

Really, this trend should be nipped in the bud.

Tags: Green Roofs | Greenwashing

13 garden hacks from the experts


A gardening master at work

You too can be a gardening master with these expert tips. (Photo: lassedesignen/Shutterstock)

One of the fun things about gardening is talking with other gardeners about their tips and tricks to grow strong, healthy plants and ward off unwanted critters.

While sound plant culture is the basis of any good garden, knowing the secret hacks adds a little creativity to growing vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees. Here are a baker’s dozen hacks from various sources you can use to not only broaden your gardening skills but to impress your friends with your “Where did you learn that?” gardening knowledge.

As with all new procedures, test them out on just a few plants – and at your own risk! – before applying them to large sections of your garden.

If you have a hack we haven’t listed, be sure to share it in the comments section.

1. Aerate your garden.

A person in gardening boots aerates a lawnDon’t have a cordless drill? Aerate your lawn the old fashioned way with a gardening fork or a manual aerator. (Photo: Paul Maguire/Shutterstock)

Lawn care professionals recommend you aerate your lawn at least twice a year. Cultivated garden spaces would benefit from the same treatment. In the spring, before things wake up, take an auger bit on a cordless drill and puncture holes throughout the garden. Back fill some of these holes with a grit such as expanded shale or a squeegee-sized gravel, an angular gravel that is smaller in particle size than pea gravel. Leave the other holes open as they will fill in naturally. Creating the holes will increase oxygen to the root zone. This is especially important for Western native plants to improve their longevity and bloom.

Tip from Mike Bone, curator of the Steppe Collection at the Denver Botanic Gardens

2. Enrich soils with coffee grounds.

A person spoons coffee grounds into a potted plantCoffee grounds provide soil with nutrients that improve its quality. (Photo: ThamKC/Shutterstock)

Used coffee grounds are an excellent organic resource, providing nitrogen to compost piles and improving soil structure and tilth. Coffee grounds are about two percent nitrogen by volume and are not acidic — the acid in coffee is water-soluble, so the acid is mostly in your mug of coffee. When adding coffee grounds to a compost pile, add leaves and grass clippings in equal amounts. When adding them to a static compost bin, add an equal amount of a carbon source, such as shredded paper or dry leaves. Mix all components together well. Mix the grounds into the soil while still wet (when dry they will repel water) and add a nitrogen fertilizer at the same time. Adding nitrogen is important because coffee grounds encourage the growth of microorganisms in the soil, which use nitrogen for their growth and reproduction. Anecdotal evidence suggests coffee grounds repel slugs and snails and attract earthworms, which greatly enrich garden soils.

Tip from Oregon State University Extension Service

3. Put egg shells to good use.

Egg shells around a plantCracked egg shells make a natural slug deterrent. (Photo: ThamKC/Shutterstock)

If you have a problem with slugs in your garden, there’s a simple and organic way to discourage them from feeding on your plants and vegetables. Place crushed egg shells around your plants. There’s no secret ingredient in the shells that slugs don’t like or a scientific reason behind this hack. Instead, there’s a very practical reason to use the egg shell strategy: Slugs don’t like the sharp edges of the crushed shells. In fact, the jagged edges will puncture their soft bodies and kill them. Slugs can cause unsightly damage to leaves and seedlings, especially in the parts of your garden that are shady and tend to stay moist. They are particularly active after rains and in gardens that are watered well. They also are attracted to fruits and vegetables as they ripen. Slime trails are tell-tale evidence that slugs are present.

Tip from Amanda Bennett, manager of Display Gardens, Atlanta Botanical Garden

4. Epsom salt is good for you and your tomatoes.

It’s no secret that Epsom salt, which gets its name from a bitter saline spring at Epsom in Surrey, England, has health and beauty benefits when added to bath water. A perhaps lesser-known use for the salt, which is not a salt at all but a naturally occurring combination of magnesium and sulfate, is in the garden. Adding Epsom salt in limited quantities to tomatoes helps the fruit develop better because magnesium and sulfate are key ingredients for plant growth. Michael Arnold of Stone Avenue Nursery in Greenville, South Carolina, said he has heard adding Epsom salt around stressed plants will help them recover.

Tip from Amanda Bennett, manager of Display Gardens, Atlanta Botanical Garden

5. There’s an easy way to foil crawling insects

If you have a problem with crawling insects in your vegetable garden, wrapping a collar of aluminum foil around tomatoes and squash can help ward off unwanted critters that want to munch on your goodies before you do. As with the egg shell hack above, there’s no science involved with this trick; it’s just a practical tactic. Many crawling insects do not like to cross metal, and, in this case, foil has the added benefit of being somewhat sharp. It also acts as a physical barrier. For instance, if you put it on squash, the borer can’t get to the base of the stem, which is where they would normally burrow in.

Tip from Amanda Bennett, manager of Display Gardens, Atlanta Botanical Garden

6. Keep pots moist with wick watering.

If you’re a plant collector or a small-space gardener who has a lot of pots, especially small pots of ornamental ferns and tropical plants that can die if the soil dries out too quickly, there’s a way to keep their roots moist. Wick water them from old plastic food containers with lids or 2-liter plastic soda bottles using acrylic string or cord. This watering method also can be used on larger pots if you’re going on vacation for a short period. The idea is that the capillary action created by drawing water from a reservoir into the soil will maintain soil moisture at levels that will keep the plants happy. Here’s how it works (the video above is a little different, but the basic principles remain the same):

  • For smaller pots (4 to 6 inches), use about an 8-inch length of acrylic string or yarn pushed up through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. At the time of planting, several inches of the string can be wound around the bottom of the pot. If the plant is already potted, the string can be pushed up through the drainage hole several inches with a pencil or crochet hook. The pot can then be placed right on top of the water container, resting on its lid, and the string should dangle through a small hole cut into the lid.
  • Larger pots may need several lengths of string tied together or a larger synthetic cord to wick water up well. Old nylon hosiery or even strips of old T-shirts or polyester blankets can be used, too. For very large and heavy pots setting a 2-liter soda bottle or bucket next to the pot can work. All you have to do is dangle one end of the wick into your reservoir and push the other end into the soil of your pot.

Hint: Make sure that whatever string, cord or strip you use is already moistened with water so that water can be pulled by capillary action.

Tip from Brent Tucker, horticulturist of Seasonal Designs and Events at Powell Gardens, Kansas City’s botanical garden

7. Have compost piles pull double duty.

Hugelkultur bed of flowersHugelkultur gardens are essentially long-term compost piles of wood covered in soil. (Photo: Karen Blakeman/flickr)

Building a hugelkultur garden instead of a traditional raised bed can be an easy foray into the world of permaculture. A hugelkultur garden consists of mounds of rotting wood covered with soil. The more rotten the better when building this type of bed, but any level of decomposition can be used. Essentially, you’re building a long-term compost pile of wood covered in soil. Once your mound is built, you plant it just like you would any other raised bed. Not only is a hugelkultur mound a great way to use your yard waste as a resource, but the best part is you’re eliminating the need for constant irrigation. The wood acts like a sponge, absorbing moisture and releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil. It tends to stay moist, but not soggy, even in drought conditions. Worried about watering your garden while you’re on vacation? A hugelkultur mound watered before you leave will likely still have adequate moisture when you return a week (or more) later. You can even do this with large pots and planters.

Tip from Gabe Perry, horticulturist of Grounds & Natural Resources at Powell Gardens, Kansas City’s botanical garden

8. Make your own insecticidal soap.

Dissolve 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap in 4 cups of water. Spray on plants infested with spider mites, whiteflies, aphids or thrips. Insecticidal soap is not a preventative. It acts on contact and kills insects by suffocating or dehydrating them, which means that the solution must touch the pest to be effective. Another use for insecticidal soaps is to use them to wash honeydew, sooty mold and other debris from leaves. Insecticidal soaps are considered among the safest pesticides because they are low in toxicity.

Tip from Montreal Botanical Garden

9. Make a garlic-based insecticide.

A gardener sprays a DIY pesticide on plants on plantsIt’s important to make sure your DIY pesticide solutions are properly mixed and diluted. (Photo: Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock)

Place a clove of garlic in a blender and add 2 cups of water. Blend until smooth. Pour the liquid into a container, cover and let sit for 24 hours. Filter the solution through a cheese cloth or a strainer into a large container. Dilute the garlic solution with 12 cups of water, and add one or two drops of insecticidal soap to help the mixture adhere to plant leaves. Garlic kills some insects by contact, which is why the dilution is necessary. Dead insects are a warning that you haven’t diluted that the solution enough (it can even kill the good bugs). It can be a preventative because the pungent odor of garlic repels a wide variety of insects.

Note: A clove is one section of the garlic bulb. When mixing the solution, be careful not to touch your eyes when handling the garlic as it can irritate them..

Tip from Montreal Botanical Garden

10. Try a baking soda solution for fungal diseases.

Dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in 4 cups of water and add a few drops of liquid dish soap to make the mixture adhere to plant leaves. Spray the solution onto plants as a preventative against powdery mildew, rust and black spot. Repeat every 7 to 14 days or after a rain. The sodium bicarbonate properties of baking soda make it a natural fungicide.

Tip from Montreal Botanical Garden

11. Don’t let a late frost leave you feeling blue.

Here are three simple tricks to protect blueberries from a late frost.

  1. Water them well. Plants are less susceptible to frost damage if they are hydrated. Wet soil absorbs more heat during the day than dry soil and, thus, radiates out more heat at night.
  2. Cover the plant. Drape fabric all the way to the ground and anchor it with boards or rocks. This will capture the warmth released from the soil under the blanket and hold it around the plant. Do not gather the fabric around the trunk. This will have the opposite effect of forcing all the warmth from the soil to go out around the outside of the blanket. Be sure to remove the cover during the day.
  3. Trap heat near the plant. Place five 1-gallon buckets, or even milk jugs, full of water near enough to the plant that they can be under the frost cover. Water is a heat sink, radiating out heat at night that was absorbed during the day.

Tip from Lucy Bradley, extension specialist in urban horticulture at North Carolina State University

These last two tips fall under the category of “old wives tales” for gardeners.

12. Share your cola with your azaleas.

A glass of soda on a wooden tableBuy your azaleas a cola to improve their growth. (Photo: rlat/Shutterstock)

Pour 4 ounces of cola onto the soil at the base of your azaleas to boost plant performance. Supposedly any cola will work, so go for the less expensive stuff rather than a name brand. What’s the science behind this? Does it balance the pH and acidity of the soil for azaleas? Does the sugar in the cola feed microorganisms in the soil, increasing the organic matter in the soil? Can an audience member who is a chemist provide an answer?

Tip from Jamey Whitaker at Chelsea Gardens, Grayson, Georgia

13. Grow your tomatoes in cinder blocks.

Place cinder blocks in your garden with the holes facing up. Plant a tomato in one hole, removing leaves that are beneath the top of the cinder block. Fill the hole with garden soil. Fill half of the other hole with 10-10-10 fertilizer and fill the rest of that hole with garden soil. Thoroughly water each side. After that, just water the fertilizer side. Then get ready for the biggest, heaviest-producing tomato plants you’ve ever grown!

Why would this work? Does the cinder block leach water and fertilizer into the root zone of the tomato since roots will grow from tomato stems buried beneath the surface of the soil? Does the cinder block add warmth to the root zone of the plant that’s inside the cinder block? Is there a chemical compound in the cinder block that is beneficial to tomatoes? All of the above? Has anyone tried this who can offer answers?

Note: You may still need to stake the tomato plant or put a cage around it to support the sprawling plant, which is actually a vine. Determinate, or bush, tomato plants, which grow only to a certain height, depending on the variety, may not need support. Indeterminate tomato plants, however, grow as vines and will continue growing and producing fruit until frost. These tomato plants will definitely need support to keep them from running along the ground where the fruit would be susceptible to rot or being eaten by rodents.

Tip from Jamey Whitaker at Chelsea Gardens, Grayson, Georgia

How California building owners slash energy

Californiabuildingsnewsma2016 preview image


News about the design, building and operation of buildings; facilities management and engineering; architect; and sustainability and energy trends;

Five Ways to Enhance Your Community Association’s Brand

Your community association is a business. This includes assets, liabilities, governing rules, possibly employees, and elected board members providing oversight. What else do all businesses manage? Their brand, which is one of their most important assets.

The brand of your association is not always top-of-mind, but maybe it should be. Why? Because the strength of your community’s brand can significantly impact your association. This includes attracting new residents and property values which are two of the most important concerns of current owners. The brand of your community association, or any business, is simply what the public thinks of when they see or hear your name. The perceptions include factually what they know as well as emotionally what is perceived.

How does an association enhance and protect its brand? The answer is marketing your association. This is where homeowner association (HOA) board members must put on their marketing hats. Never worn one? No problem – here are some tips that will have you marketing your community like a professional.

1. First impressions matter.
What do visitors and prospective residents see when they visit your community? Do they see a well-manicured and attractive entrance, prominent monument sign, or a combination of both? This is the area that represents your community — everyone sees it, even those simply driving by. If you are a mid or high-rise building, the same logic applies to your lobby. First impressions matter and your entrance is prime real estate for establishing and reinforcing your association brand. It can serve as a billboard that entices people to visit while establishing the feeling and mood of your entire community.

2. Familiarity can breed complacency.
Familiarity can easily breed complacency. You enter and exit your community so often it becomes second nature. This makes it hard to see things with a fresh pair of eyes. Try this, put yourself in the mindset of a potential buyer. Enter your community as if it was the first time you’re visiting. What do you see? Are the streets properly maintained and well lit? Are common areas inviting? Is directional signage clear? Does the landscaping add or detract from the experience? Do you feel welcome? Experiencing your association the way a prospective buyer will help you find ways to improve it – and attract new residents. A great community association management company has the right resources to help you objectively evaluate your community. They can draw from best practices within the industry and from current clients. Additionally, they can work with you to facilitate improvements in an efficient and economical way.

3. It’s a lifestyle.
Want to set your community apart from neighboring communities? A good way to start is by creating an atmosphere of fun, which encourages community engagement. This can be accomplished most effectively through events. Events should be aligned with the culture of your community. They can range from tried and true barbeques to ice cream socials to panel discussions on interesting topics with guest speakers to music concerts. Additionally, you could consider partnering with local businesses to arrange food and wine tastings, promotional giveaways, etc. Hosting events like these can create positive experiences within your community, which lead to a powerful word of mouth effect. For example, pictures and updates shared via social media can spread to large audiences extending your reach significantly. Your residents become your real estate agents, spreading the word to neighboring communities, family and friends.

When successful, your community becomes known for its lifestyle and recognized as “the place to be.” This recognition can become true differentiators when prospective buyers are evaluating where to live. A professional, experienced association management company with local resources can be instrumental in developing a successful lifestyle and event program.

4. An attractive investment.
Potential buyers and current owners will value different aspects of your community. Some people gravitate towards softer aspects such as what they can see and experience. Others will be keeping a keen eye on the financial health of the community association. Prospective buyers will evaluate many factors when making their decision. One way to set your association apart is by positioning ownership as a sound financial investment.

One suggestion is to create a mechanism for showing prospective buyers your documents during the sales process. If they know they’re moving into a community that is managed responsibly, it may be the deciding factor between choosing your association and the one across the street. If your association is currently experiencing financial challenges, address them immediately. Look to your community association management company for help. They might be able to assist in the creation of communications that help explain the current circumstances, and steps being taken to improve the financial standing. Ideally, your association management company has the financial details, reporting and strategic planning resources to put your association in the best light possible.

5. Connect the dot.com.
According to various studies, over 80% of consumers conduct online research before making big purchases. Think of your own buying habits and this number probably won’t surprise you. This makes your community’s online presence as important as the physical one as discussed earlier. Your community’s website and social media pages can be a significant opportunity to promote your brand. Consider creating landing pages dedicated to prospective buyers by highlighting the amenities, community events, and overall resident experience that sets your association apart. If you live in a highly competitive real estate market, this can be an invaluable tool in helping buyers and real estate agents learn more about what a great place your community is to live in.

Any marketing strategy involves time and effort, but by using these five basic tips you’re well on your way to promoting your association’s brand. This can increase resident satisfaction and attract your next qualified buyer.

As developers buy up churches for condo conversion, what’s next for our houses of worship?

Living on a Prayer

Even outside of sermons, Terry Starks often falls into the rolling cadences and exhortations of the pastor he has been for the past two decades, a declamatory tone that makes it easy to believe him when he says that God gave him the right to a 113-year-old, 48,000-square-foot church on New York City’s Upper West Side. Developers have been struggling to convert this building, initially called the First Church of Christ Scientist New York and then 1 West 96th Street, but now referred to in documents as 361 Central Park West, into luxury apartments since its sale in June 2014 for $26 million. But Starks knows a higher power is on his side, even in the secular arena of Manhattan real estate. “361 is a promise God made me. That building means to me what Israel means to the Jews,” he says. “How are you going to turn God’s house into condos?”

361 CPW is a forbidding stone monolith on the corner of 96th Street just across from the park, anchoring blocks of stately condo buildings, the kind that come with individual names on their entrance awnings and multiple doormen. It was designed in 1889 by the firm Carrere & Hastings, who were assigned the project just after they won another commission to design the main branch of the New York Public Library. Photographs of the interior just after it was built show a grand space cut with barrel vaults and covered in Art Nouveau filigree. An enormous organ rises above the altar, below the words, “God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.” The church was landmarked by the city in 1974. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s original notice, the building “is indicative of the freedom of design achieved by the best architects working in the Beaux Arts tradition. Although they used classical elements they had learned to emancipate their designs from rigid restrictions.”

Like other Christian Science churches, 361 CPW is squat and heavy, pre-Brutalist in its embrace of unornamented blocks of Concord granite. It doesn’t look like condo fodder. The building’s only large windows are on the lower floors of the structure and covered in elaborate stained glass by the artist John La Farge. Light enters the upper floors only through circular portholes and square apertures fit more for medieval archers than twilit dinner parties.

361 Central Park West. Photo by Anomalous A/Flickr.

Nevertheless, through an entity called 361 Central Park West LLC, owner Joseph Brunner, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, has pushed his condo conversion through the LPC and the Board of Standards and Appeals against the opposition of preservationists and the neighborhood association, denying that the building could be profitably turned into anything other than apartments. Brunner’s efforts are much to the chagrin of Pastor Terry, who led a congregation at 361 CPW from 2007 to 2010 when it was owned by Crenshaw Christian Center, a Los Angeles-based ministry that bought the building from the Christian Science church in 2004 for $14 million and later sold it to Brunner’s LLC. The sale “was like when they tore down Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament,” Starks says. “When they left that building, people wept.”

The fight over 361 CPW is symptomatic of New York City’s residential real estate boom—Manhattan property hit an all-time peak of $1,497 per square foot in the third quarter of 2015. The boom has meant that most any kind of building, from factories to firehouses, carriage barns, schools, and corporate offices, is liable to turn into condos, like a creeping architectural plague. Churches are the latest targets. A 2012 Wall Street Journal articlenoted the mounting popularity of such “religious conversions.” A record $1.3 billion worth of religious properties were sold in 1,502 sales in 2014, according to the Christian Post; 2010 saw just 889 sales worth $578.9 million. Though the exact numbers of church-to-condo conversions aren’t tracked, “we tend to see it occur during development booms where the availability of building sites is limited but demand for anything with a roof over it is high,” says Jonathan Miller, the New York real estate appraiser.

Call the church conversion a “chondo,” to coin an inelegant portmanteau. The same qualities that once made churches cultural and artistic centers—their central locations in neighborhoods, their size, their vast windows and cavernous chambers—also make them perfect for a real estate market that commodifies light and space in the crowded city. Church attendance is also dropping precipitously. In 2014, a Pew survey found that almost 60 percent of older millennials go to church once annually or less, meaning religious buildings are more vulnerable to condoification than ever.

Though turning a church into a luxury residential commodity might seem sacrilegious, religious buildings have always functioned as trophies of power and capital, commissioned by pharaohs, kings, and emperors in Ozymandian attempts at immortality. The structures took generations or even centuries to complete—Cologne Cathedral in Germany was built over the course of 600 years—meaning their purposes are also liable to change over time.

Historically, churches most often became other churches. Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which was built by the Byzantines as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in 537, became Roman Catholic under the Fourth Crusade from 1204 to 1261, converted to a mosque when the Ottomans invaded Constantinople on May 29, 1453, and was finally secularized as a museum in 1935. As architecture, churches are no more inviolate than abandoned Wal-Marts. Beyond apartments, the shells of churches might also house nightclubs (like Manhattan’s infamous Limelight, known for recreational drugs and murder), bookstores, art galleries, rock-climbing gyms, or offices, like those of the Internet Archive, in a former Christian Science church in San Francisco.

Two New York City churches, on West Fourth Street and Prince Street, that have been, or are being, converted into residential space.

The aesthetics of the converted church are similar to those of a post-industrial loft: high ceilings, big windows, and a sculptural excess of space. In fact, just as they once occupied factories, artists are turning to churches as the supply of empty industrial real estate has dwindled or become unaffordable. “Industrial spaces aren’t as easy to come by as they once were because real estate developers are on to that,” says Sharon Butler, a painter who previously kept her studio in a church in Old Mystic, Connecticut. “Churches are sort of undiscovered. You can find a really big space and they’re relatively inexpensive, because who else is going to buy it?”

That the church is itself a work of art adds appeal. “Artists are people who pay attention to what things look like and how light falls on objects and how light changes color and space, so all of those things make artists inclined to fall in love irrationally with churches,” Butler says. “But the reality is that a lot of the space is vertical rather than horizontal, and that makes it really impractical.”

Cheap to acquire, churches are often expensive to renovate. Mike Lidgus, a retired aerospace engineer who is restoring and living in a former Christian Science church in Newburgh, New York, bought his building for $30,000 from the government. Repairs to the slate roof cost $50,000 and new copper piping $40,000. “There’s the reality of getting a good handle on what exactly this is going to cost, and it’s always going to be more than that,” Lidgus says. Peter Wetzler, a composer who renovated a church in Kingston, New York, with his partner Julie Hedrick, paid $20,000 for a traditional Czech steeplejack to repair their steeple, after a contractor quoted $100,000.

 Mike Lidgus

Under Catholic canon law, a church building must be deconsecrated before being used non-religiously. No specific ceremony is mandated, says Reverend John Coughlin, a professor of religious studies at New York University, but “there is often one final gathering of the community in the church. After the communal opportunity to say farewell, any sacred objects would be removed from the premises.” Yet residents of a converted church might find themselves dealing with their building’s origins long afterward.

“You can use these spaces for whatever you want as long as you have a sensitivity and are prepared to answer to the people who used to worship there,” says Mat Henderson, the founder of Xhurches (pronounced “ex-churches”), a Portland, Oregon, organization devoted to documenting church conversions. (Henderson lives in one himself.) Sensitivity is important, because converting a church to residential use often means privatizing a space that was previously communal property. “People would come up and peek in, they’d tell us about what it was once like,” says artist Jer Thorp, who lived in a Vancouver church renovated by his then-girlfriend. “You’re living adjacent to a lot of stories that are owned by other people.” Some of those people will likely wish the building had never changed.

Terry Starks grew up poor in Memphis, Tennessee, one of seven children with different fathers (he didn’t meet his own until 1987). He never got into trouble, he says, until he graduated high school and joined the Army in 1977. When he got out in 1980, dropped back into a difficult adult environment, he started selling drugs and eventually went to prison in Puerto Rico. “That’s where I got born again,” he says, in October 1993. “They put me in the hold for one day. It brought me to my knees. An old lady came by and said, ‘Sir, can I get you anything?’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am, you can bring me a Bible.’ I opened it up and my life has never been the same.”

Starks married his second wife, Lynda, got out of prison, started selling cars, got promoted, and moved on to managing the career of NBA player Penny Hardaway, at the time point guard for the Phoenix Suns. In April 1998, God spoke four words to Starks: “‘Fresh Start New Beginning,’ that was my assignment,” he says, a gloss of II Corinthians 5:17, “Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Starks followed Hardaway to New York and started his own ministry in 2004, but left for Crenshaw Christian Center at 361 CPW in 2007 at the call of Crenshaw founder Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, who became his mentor.

Inside 361 CPW circa 1909
First Church of Christ Scientist, published circa 1909
Courtesy of New York City Black and White

The Starks felt a deep connection with 361 CPW. “The first Sunday I went in there, my wife looked up at the ceiling and she said, ‘God give me and Terry something like this.’ We love old buildings, we love architecture,” Starks says. “I immediately became immersed in the building itself,” Lynda says. She researched its history, formed a church volunteer group, and started cleaning up by hand. “We went in and got rid of everything; scraped all the paint off the windows; found all the old knobs in the attic and replaced them; re-stained all the floors, always trying to maintain the integrity of the building,” she says. They stripped new white paint off the wood doors and patched up fractured marble. “We truly loved it, had a passion for it, but understood that it didn’t really belong to us.”

According to the Starkses, the congregation had stagnated under the 84-year-old Price, but it began to grow under Pastor Terry. Starks’s relative youth in his late 50s, fluency in worldly matters (pre-conversion, he founded a record label), and accessible message drew a younger crowd, up to 800 for weekly services and 2,000 parishioners in total. The flock was largely African-American, but became more diverse over time. Photos from Starks’s tenure show him in front of a crowd at the intricate wooden altar, parishioners in their Sunday best with arms upraised reaching toward him. “Because of the location everyone felt safe, everyone felt welcome,” Lynda says. “I would hate to see that it becomes the total opposite of that, luxury condos no one can go into it but those people who can afford it, one percent of the population in New York.”

That churches have become more valuable as apartments is a consequence of gentrification, which is more likely to impact historically African-American churches. Rising housing costs in Washington, D.C., have forced African-American churches to relocate along with their congregations or risk losing them. The same is happening in Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania’s oldest African Baptist church, First African Baptist, was sold to developers this year. “Black churches have to seek new locations,” Terrence Griffith, the church’s pastor, told CBS. The trend highlights a painful contrast. While 361 CPW is considered for redevelopment, selling or converting a historically white church, like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, which was begun in 1892 but is still not landmarked by the city, would be unthinkable.

Inside The Convent in San Francisco.
Courtesy of Xhurches

In the midst of the struggle with gentrification, a confrontation between the two generations of the Crenshaw Christian Center church at 361 CPW seemed inevitable. “I hit the glass ceiling,” Terry Starks says. He approached Price about getting loans and taking over the lease of the building for his own ministry, but Price declined. (Crenshaw Christian Center did not respond to requests for comment.) Rather than risk splitting the church, the Starkses moved to Atlanta in late 2010. “Dr. Price had been Terry’s mentor, we didn’t want that to end on a negative note. We were all devastated,” Lynda says.

Attendance at Price’s church cratered, falling below 100 at services, and the mortgage became unaffordable. “Most members were hoping he would call Terry and say, let’s work something out, so the membership could keep their church,” Lynda says. Price eventually called for a vote over whether to sell the building and downsize, but according to members, the church administration only sent the ballot to a few hundred parishioners they knew would vote in favor of the decision. (Price and his ministry have also come under fire for enriching themselves with parishioners’ tithes.)

“I was one of the people who agreed to sell the church because of how all the people that were part of the church presented it to us,” says Derese Bitto, one of Price’s parishioners. “It wasn’t told to us that the plan was they were going to build condominiums. If I had known that I wouldn’t have agreed. Those condos are not going to help anybody.”

The $26 million sale price was supposed to go toward a new home for the Crenshaw church, but “we basically moved from a mansion into a studio apartment,” says parishioner and former church employee Ellen Carroll, who regrets the sale but didn’t feel she could speak out against it at the time. Crenshaw Christian Center East, as the New York branch is called, currently operates out of the sixth floor of an office building in the Garment District and holds services in the ballroom of The New Yorker Hotel.

The building sale was finalized in June 2014. On paper, the buyer was 361 Central Park West LLC, controlled by developer Ira Shapiro (who had previously defaulted on loans during his attempt to develop condos at One Madison Park). Shapiro was, it turned out, acting as a consultant for Joseph Brunner, and immediately flipped the building to him for $42 million. After trying and failing to flip the building again for $50 million, in November 2014, Brunner unveiled initial conversion plans that included adding 70 windows to the building’s facade and removing its stained glass, inching it toward generic Williamsburg chic. One Community Board member called the design “pockmarked.” The church’s interior, which could not be landmarked because religious buildings can’t meet the accessibility requirements of the LPC, was also gutted, down to its Circassian walnut pews, which parishioners said were sold to a luxury car manufacturer.

As the condo conversion gained momentum, a parishioner named Gabrielle Everett, also an agent at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, emailed Terry Starks asking him to return and fight for the church. “You have to be still until God tells you to move. When I got that email I knew it was my marching order,” Starks says. “Georgia was preparation. Now I’m ready to do what God called me to do.”

Just as with factory lofts, developers caught on to the bohemian marketing potential of converted churches. If the buildings were first the pet projects of artists and architects, they have now been industrialized, put into mass production. A city church can be gut renovated and dissected into any number of cookie-cutter, stainless-steel-appliance-equipped units, no matter how strange the shape. “Developers realized they can develop any kind of space,” Sharon Butler says.

You’re living adjacent to a lot of stories that are owned by other people.

A building’s backstory is just another selling point, the same way a painting’s provenance might increase its value. Developer Francis Greenburger of Time Equities, along with Hamlin Ventures, is renovating 32-34 Prince Street, a former Catholic orphanage and parochial school in the heart of SoHo across from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. The buildings will become a series of townhouses and loft apartments under the name The Residences at Prince, and prices start at $7.74 million for a three-bedroom condo. (The Archdiocese of New York sold the buildings for $30.7 million.) “The thing we liked about it is first of all the location and second of all the historic nature of these buildings,” Greenburger says.

Greenburger’s plan replaces most everything but the stately neoclassical facade, though the lesser seen back of the building will be more explicitly modern. “This is like having a new person inside an old dress,” Greenburger says. The developer himself lives in a gut-renovated brownstone in Greenwich Village. “I think that it is a wonderful feeling, to have the security, the reference, the beauty of being in architecture that represents a historic tradition but at the same time having an interior that is very modern, very contemporary, very comfortable.”

32-34 Prince Street

The literal veneer of history that layers a converted building, whether factory or church, might be particularly appealing to gentrifiers because it acts as a kind of disguise. Outwardly, the neighborhood doesn’t change much; the old structure is still there, more or less recognizable. The conversion also imparts a sense of authenticity that a brand-new building never could. Residents can instantly feel part of the city’s long-term fabric just by writing a check.

The Archdiocese will use some of the money from the purchase to continue renovations on Old St. Patrick’s, and the church will retain space in the new building. But walking around the site, a peaceful, quintessentially Manhattan block with an old brick wall that shrouds the cathedral from the street, it seems almost cruel that yet another large chunk of it would become private space. It’s all too easy to imagine St. Patrick’s itself turned into apartments and sold off by the square foot, the arched windows commanding top dollar.

For Terry Starks, the competition over 361 CPW presents an epic religious quest to lead his flock back into its promised land. For the developers, perhaps, successful condo conversion means restoring the property to another religion, the market, and receiving their pious reward in return. (It must also be said that there’s tax revenue to be had if 361 CPW becomes residential instead of another church.) As a metaphor for American spiritual crisis in the age of Trump, it’s almost too obvious. The city faces a choice of public or private, temple or palace.

In late 2014, a series of revisions requested by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to the developers’ design for 361 CPW resulted in fewer windows and the retention of some of the stained glass, though the outright religious imagery would be removed. But by the time the LPC approved the plans in March 2015, the case had caught the attention of preservationists as well as the building’s neighbors, the residents of 370 CPW, a condo building with windows less than 15 feet from the proposed church conversion. The neighbors were less than pleased. The Central Park West Neighbors Association hired Michael Hiller, the same lawyer who prevented Carrere & Hastings’ New York Public Library from destroying its stacks, to defend their case, arguing in part that the proximity would cause illegal tenement-like conditions. 361 CPW isn’t an isolated incident, Hiller says. “Landmarks in the city of New York are under attack everywhere.”

“We were concerned with it from the get-go. The extent of the changes that were proposed, it always felt like a square peg in a round hole. The building was not designed to accept this degree of residential use,” says Kate Wood, executive director of Landmark West, a non-profit that works to landmark and protect historic buildings on the Upper West Side. Alongside Hiller, Wood and her organization have advocated heavily against the 361 CPW conversion. “Our testimony is that there’s always another way,” she says.

A rendering of the interior of 32-34 Prince Street.
Redundant Pixel

When the case came to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which interprets the meaning and application of building laws, 361 CPW LLC applied for variances that would allow the development to avoid certain zoning restrictions. The board grants variances “when compliance with zoning might present an economic hardship or practical difficulties,” according to the city. The developers argued that the very factors that make the building a landmark—its location, structure, age—mean they should be cut a break. Given the expense of LPC-approved renovation, they also argue that there is no other way the building will be adequately profitable save building condos, despite previous offers from Manhattan’s Children’s Museum and various religious groups to buy the building. The developers estimate the condo sales will bring in $100 million, a number that opponents find hard to stomach as indicative of hardship. (“Which 100-year-old building in New York doesn’t need some work done on it? That’s what New York is known for,” Starks says.)

“This was a breathtaking effort by the developer to buy a valuable landmarked building in order to exploit it,” Hiller says. “You bought this building, you knew it was a landmark, and there’s been no demonstration that this building can’t be used as a church, as Pastor Terry wants to do, or a museum,” Wood argues. The question, she says, is whose value is being preserved in the conversion of the church. “To prioritize the developers’ value over the value of existing residents is not right, and sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Inside the Novare, a NYC church that was converted to a condo in 2006.

During the BSA hearings that stretched into late 2015 and this year, Starks and his parishioners made themselves known, adding momentum to the opposition. “People have come from all over, flying into New York just to be at these hearings. They’re very committed,” Woods says. Hiller recalls the flock praying in the hallways of Spector Hall, where the BSA meetings take place. “We have all these people coming out who desperately want to use the church without changing it on the outside, without getting rid of the stained glass windows,” the lawyer says of the flock. For all his enthusiasm, Starks is leaving the precise logistics of reclaiming the church up to a higher power. “It’s not my job to raise the money. It’s my job to believe for the money; it’s God’s job to raise the money,” he says.

Delays and unexpected extensions have made the case harder for the opponents. Hiller presented papers demonstrating that the developers did not meet any of the requirements for the variances they were seeking and also failed to publicly disclose the list price of the property (the price they quoted privately to the Children’s Museum is said to exceed $50 million). On January 12, the BSA voted to close the case record and make a final decision by February 9. But the board then voted to defer another two weeks, and on February 19, the developer requested another delay, which was granted over objections.

On February 29, 361 CPW LLC announced they were withdrawing their application and asked that it be without prejudice, in order to reevaluate or submit new evidence for the variances. It seemed like a win for the opponents, but “they could bring the same application again,” Hiller says. The BSA’s decision over the proposed withdrawal was then scheduled for March 8. Wood, Hiller, and Starks still hoped it would mean a resolution in their favor. But Mitchell Korbey, a land use lawyer for the LLC, later told Curbed that the developer is determined to turn the church into luxury apartments.

While traveling to New York for hearings over 361 CPW, Pastor Terry maintains his flock by hosting Bible study sessions, which also function as a referendum on the status of the church building. On March 8, the day of the BSA decision, I attend a session in the dingy first-floor community room of an apartment complex around the corner from Starks’s erstwhile church. The space’s drop ceiling, fluorescent lights, and linoleum floor present a stark contrast to 361 CPW, but around 100 people crowd the room in folding chairs, flipping through Bibles or scrolling for passages on their phones and iPads. Terry Starks stands tall and energetic at the front of the room in a glossy gray suit stripped to a vest, dabbing at his bald head as he proceeds through the sermon.

Starks ties each reading back to the church’s real estate plight, comparing the building’s hoped-for reclamation to Lazarus coming back from the dead. “The devil don’t want to give up the territory. Help is going to come for 1 West 96th Street,” he declaims. “This is the time for you to step to the plate and do what God calls you to do.” Lynda, wearing a jewel-tone dress that resembles stained glass, steps forward with an update. “The BSA closed the hearing,” she says.

Inside the Novare conversion.

This meant that 361 CPW LLC would be able to suspend their initial effort relatively easily and propose a new conversion plan or submit new variance evidence. The decision was “exactly what the developer wanted,” Hiller later tells me.

The next BSA meeting on 361 CPW is scheduled for June 2. Terry Starks is unflagging. “We found out we have to go through the whole thing again,” he says, his voice more triumphant than fatigued. He asks his flock to attend and protest once more. “You tell that board what the church means to you. We got three months for you to get a vacation date. Let ‘em know we’re coming to fight.” The parishioners cheer in response.

After the Bible study, I walk toward Central Park to see 361 CPW in the fading dusk. The building looms darkly on its corner, devoid of activity. “Crenshaw Christian Center” is still printed in peeling letters on its awning and a signboard next to the entrance. Around the building, the sidewalks hum with families on evening promenade and joggers making their way into the park. Across 96th Street, the remainder of the facade of the Second Presbyterian Church, built in 1894, hunkers under the weight of 360 Central Park West, a 17-floor condo complex built in 1929 and currently under renovation, with prices up to $6 million for a four-bedroom home.

It’s easy to mourn the plight of 361 CPW because it’s such a concrete symbol of everything we’ve lost, or like to think we’ve lost, as a society—community, piety, faith. While the historic Upper West Side church could remain a church, the fact that it risks falling into the private market is a secular, capitalist cliché, regardless of how you feel about religion. Once, the light and space of the church represented holiness, a communal reach toward heaven. It now represents individual purchasing power.

There’s a 1955 poem by the British poet Philip Larkin called “Church Going” in which Larkin, widely regarded as agnostic if not atheist, describes the lightly transgressive appeal of wandering into an empty church and taking in the ghosts of its sacred space. Larkin wonders,

“When churches will fall completely out of use

What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep

A few cathedrals chronically on show…”

We’ve turned our disused churches into many things: homes, clubs, and temples to commerce. Others have become museums for posterity, as the poet suggests. But in its bones, a church will forever remain a church so long as some relic of it stands—a Gothic arch, vaulted ceiling, or classical cornice, a hint of past grandeur. The buildings have an enduring spiritual significance, even in other forms, even for non-believers. In lines that echo the timeless feeling of gazing up at 361 CPW from the sidewalk, Larkin continues,

“…I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was

This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea

What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete…”

Editor: Sara Polsky
Illustrator: Tomi Um