Community Opposition Voiced Against Lucerne-Adjacent Development

Rendering of Lucerne-Adjacent Development located at 203 West 79th Street, Manhattan. Image credit: Morris Adjmi/Curbed.

Rendering of Lucerne-Adjacent Development located at 203 West 79th Street, Manhattan. Image credit: Morris Adjmi/Curbed.

Consensus by Commissioners that proposed sixteen-story building is too tall for site currently hosting four-story structure.  On July 22, 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered a project at 203 West 79th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District.  The proposal called for the demolition of the existing building at the site, where four 19th-century rowhouses were combined into one building with a contemporary facade in the 1970s.  The new building would rise to 14 stories at the streetwall, matching the height of the abutting Lucerne Hotel, with two additional set back stories, plus an elevator bulkhead.

Speaking for the applicants, Elise Quasebarth, of the firm Higgins Quasebarth, stated the existing heavily altered structure was “deficient in architectural quality,” and its demolition would not harm the integrity of the district.  Quasebarth also noted that there were many tall residential buildings in the neighborhood, and those of the inter-war period in particular possessed stepped facades and prominent balconies.

Architect Morris Adjmi presented the proposed new building.  The building, which is planned for residential use with commercial space at the ground floor, would maintain a consistent streetwall with the Lucerne and additional floors set back at the cornice line.  The facade would have four bays, with the westernmost consisting of recessed balconies above the third floor, which would turn the corner to the sidewall.  The building would be clad primarily in textured terra cotta with ornamental panels.  The visible sidewall would have punched-window openings common to secondary facades.  The facade design was intended to replicate the depth and shadow common to the district’s historic architecture, in a contemporary vernacular.  Adjmi noted that the proposal was smaller than the maximum bulk allowed under zoning.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal testified against the demolition of the existing building, and stated that if the proposal were to go forward, it would “irreparably harm the unique character of the district.”  A representative of Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal said the proposed building would negatively impact the immediate neighborhood’s historic fabric, including the recently renovated Lucerne Hotel.  A representative of Manhattan Community Board 7 recommended denial of the proposal, stating that the north side of the block maintained a consistently low scale, that the proposed design lacked depth in its facade, and that the proposal was inappropriate to a mid-block site.  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer submitted a letter to the commission supporting the community board’s position.

Area resident Robert Withers said the project would eliminate view corridors that had existed for a century.  Community member Albert Kaufman said the existing building, though not historically significant, was consistent with the scale and tone of the block and cautioned against demolition.  Simons & Wright attorney Chris Wright, representing the Lucerne, testified that the exposed western sidewall of the hotel, which would be rendered invisible by the proposal, was an aspect of both the historic building and the block that should be preserved.

Commissioner Fred Bland found it appropriate to demolish the existing building at the site, but found the proposed new building excessively tall and commented that anything built on the lot should “make deference” to the Lucerne.  Commissioner Margery Perlmutter also found the proposal’s scale excessive, the penthouses inappropriate for the district, and the balconies an unsuccessful design component.  Commissioner Diana Chapin also opined that the penthouses should be removed from the proposal and the decorative features refined.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan summarized the commission’s view that the site was an appropriate one for new development, but asked the applicants to reconsider the building’s massing, to redesign or eliminate the balconies, and to return to Landmarks with a revised proposal.

LPC: 203-209 West 79th Street, Manhattan (15-9134) (July 22, 2014) (Architect: Morris Adjmi Architects).

By: Jesse Denno  (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

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