Controversial Madison Avenue tower gets hearing

Rendering of the high-rise residential tower proposed at 980 Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side Historic District. mage: LPC.

Public hearing held on 26-story, Norman Foster-designed addition to Madison Ave. building. On October 24, 2006, Landmarks held the first public hearing on the controversial proposal of Aby Rosen and RFR Holdings LLC to add a 26-story addition to the existing five-story building at 980 Madison between East 76th and East 77th Streets in Manhattan’s Upper East Side Historic District. The new tower, designed by architect Norman Foster, who also designed the tower addition to the Hearst Building on West 57th Street, would require a permit from Landmarks as well as a use and bulk modification from the Planning Commission.

During a four-hour hearing, Rosen and Foster explained the design and the intention for the tower to contain 18 to 19 residential units. The existing Parke-Bernet building would be converted into artist work and gallery space that would include a publicly accessible sculpture garden on its roof. Bill Higgins, Rosen’s preservation expert, called the tower design a “vertical evolution” of the original building, commenting that the tower would not detract from surrounding buildings.

Preservation groups provided six examples of proposed tower additions to low-rise buildings that Landmarks had denied in the past, and warned of the precedent that approval would set. Teri Slater of Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side argued that approval would “undermine the entire role of Landmarks.” A resident of the Carlyle House on East 77th Street, William Kahn, spoke on behalf of his co-op in opposition, calling the project a “revolution, not an evolution” and adding that the tower simply did not belong on the block.

Support for the project came from artists and gallery owners, including the artist Jeff Koons, who argued that the project would infuse needed vibrancy back into the streets and the Upper East Side arts community.

Landmarks closed the hearing without comment.

LPC: 980 Madison Avenue (07-2265 & 07-2266) (Oct. 24, 2006).

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