Conversion of rowhouses to preschool proposed

Renovation would retain only facade and sidewalls. On May 19, 2009, Landmarks heard testimony on a plan to convert two Georgian-style rowhouses, located at 43 and 45 West 86th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, into a religious preschool. The rowhouses, built in 1895 and 1896, were designed by architect John H. Duncan, designer of Grant’s Tomb in Riverside Park.

Architect Charles Platt, of the firm Platt Byard Dovell White, presented the plan for the new Chabad Early Learning Center. After detailing the extensive restoration planned for the facades, Platt explained that the development included the full demolition of the interior, including the party wall separating the two rowhouses. The new rear facade, proposed as glass and masonry, would feature a multicolored glass stripe on a bay. A one-story addition with a rooftop play terrace would replace an existing rear yard extension. In addition, the design included a rooftop addition and mechanical equipment bulkhead, visible from across West 86th Street, and a new subcellar that would allow additional area without increasing the height. Along the exterior facades, the new building required handicapped-accessible entryways, necessitating the removal of the existing stoops and a new design for the entrance level. Platt noted that the structure would be much smaller than permitted as-of-right under the area’s R10A zoning.

A representative of Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell spoke in opposition, stating that the proposal violated “the spirit of the standard of appropriateness,” and that “the fundamental purpose of landmarking is to preserve more than facades.” A Community Board 7 representative stated that it voted to disapprove because the rear facade’s materials bore no relation to the Upper West Side, and the addition would intrude on the rear yard open space.

Residents testified in both strong support and opposition. One resident, speaking in support, claimed the buildings were currently “poorly maintained and run-down structures.” Several residents speaking in opposition worried that if the plan proceeded, the preschool would outgrow the facility, like it had others, leaving only a “shell.”

Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the hearing without comments from the Commissioners.

LPC: 43-45 West 86th Street, Manhattan (COFA# 09-7556) (May 19, 2009).

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