Conversions of rowhouses criticized

Commissioners concerned that proposal would destroy too many original structures. On July 21, 2009, Landmarks met for a second time to discuss Chabad of the West Side’s proposal to convert into a religious preschool two rowhouses located at 43 and 45 West 86th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. The rowhouses were built in the 1890s and designed by architect John Duncan.

A hearing on May 19 revealed sharp divisions between residents who opposed the proposal’s destruction of portions of the historic buildings and its rear yard intrusions, and those who welcomed the preschool’s presence in the neighborhood. 6 CityLand 78 (June 15, 2009). The plan, designed by Charles Platt, included demolishing the interior of the two buildings and extensive restoration for the front facades because the floor slabs, after restoration, would not align with the facade windows. The plan called for handicapped- accessible ground level entrances to replace the original front stoops, a change which would alter the original floor heights.

Commissioner Pablo Vengoechea urged the applicants to consider entrance ramps rather than changing the locations of the floor slabs. Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz compared the proposal to trying “to put a square peg in a round hole.” She found it unacceptable that the front facades would be all that were left of the original rowhouses.

Chair Robert B. Tierney agreed with the commissioners’ criticisms, saying he believed that the proposal needed to be “fundamentally rethought.” He closed the meeting without a vote, and the applicants will have an opportunity to return with revised plans.

LPC: 43-45 West 86th Street, Manhattan (COFA# 09-7556) (July 21, 2009).

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