Landmarks refuses to legalize unauthorized addition

New owners proposed to modify fifth-floor addition previously denied by Landmarks. On March 16, 2010, Landmarks voted to deny a proposal to modify and legalize a one-story rooftop addition built without Landmarks’ approval at 12-14 West 68th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. The building’s previous owners, Thomas Haines and Polly Cleveland, built the 506 square-foot, fifth-floor addition on top of a 1925-era studio building added to the rear of a Queen Anne-style mansion built in 1895.

Haines and Cleveland applied to Landmarks to legalize the addition. At an April 2009 hearing, architect Lester Evan Tour testified that he did not intend to bypass Landmarks when designing the addition. Evan Tour claimed that Buildings had failed to flag the property as landmarked, and that the plan examiners also missed the oversight. He argued that the addition was only minimally visible from the street and it related well to its host building and surroundings. Landmarks voted unanimously to deny legalization in June 2009. According to the Commissioners, the addition was too tall and made the rear building inappropriately higher than the main house. 6 CityLand 92 (July 15, 2009).

Haines and Cleveland subsequently sold the property, and the new owners proposed to modify the addition. At the new hearing, architect Herbert Weber, of the Stephen B. Jacobs Group, said the modifications would better blend the addition into the existing building. Weber explained that the modified addition would feature windows replicating those found on the studio building’s lower floors, new brick, and masonry matching the studio. A parapet would also be removed. The modifications would reduce the illegal addition’s height by seven feet.

A representative of Manhattan Community Board 7 testified in support, but preservation groups and residents spoke in opposition to the proposal. A Landmark West! representative said the modifications did not mitigate the “fundamental problems” with the illegal addition. Residents of the nearby Hotel des Artistes claimed the addition blocked light to their apartments, and reduced the value of their properties.

The Commissioners rejected the proposal, with Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz finding it irrelevant that the application was brought by a new owner, who had “bought a problem,” rather than the party responsible for building the illegal addition. Gratz said the original addition is “totally visible,” and the modifications would further change the proportions and make the buildings look more awkward.

Commissioner Christopher Moore expressed sympathy for the new owner, but said there was “zero chance this will ever be approved.”

Landmarks denied the proposal, with Commissioner Margery Perlmutter abstaining.

LPC: 12-14 West 68th Street, Manhattan (10-1538) (March 16, 2010) (Architects: Stephen B. Jacobs Group).

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