LPC Approval of Town House Addition Followed a Transparent Public Process

In a recent CityLand commentary, Noel Weekes from the Committee for the Preservation of the Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill Historic District incorrectly states that the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a non-compliant addition at 280 Convent Avenue. The article claims that the proposed addition violates “at least five of the Landmarks Commission’s nine requirements for rear yard additions or enlargements to row houses in historic districts.” While applications for additions can be complicated and sometimes controversial, the requirements cited by the author (Section 2-16, Title 63 of the Rules of the City of New York) only apply to additions that do not require a public hearing and are approvable by the Commission’s staff. In the case of 280 Convent Avenue, the applicant went through the public hearing process, and therefore the standards stated in the article were not relevant to this application.

The author’s statement that the Commission quietly approved the addition at 280 Convent Avenue is simply not true, as the application for this project was reviewed and approved through a transparent public process that included presenting the proposal to the Landmarks Commissioners, with an opportunity for public testimony on the project. At the public hearing, the Commission listened to testimony presented by the Historic Districts Council and the Society for the Architecture of the City, and all written testimony from the community that was submitted to the Commission was entered into the record. After careful consideration of all of the issues raised by the public testimony and the applicant, the Commissioners found the proposed addition to be appropriate for the building and the historic district and voted for approval.

Sarah Carroll is the Director of Preservation at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

5 thoughts on “LPC Approval of Town House Addition Followed a Transparent Public Process

  1. It is difficult if not impossible to know what is considered notification of the public…there is not a single resident in the city block on which this property is located who knew of the planned “addition”. While the presenters appeared to be shocked by the outrage of these residents when they blithely presented their architect’s plans at a meeting which we heard about only by chance, and while there have been numerous respectful/polite requests for additional meetings, those most affected by this monstrous and costly behemoth are still left ignored by City College and NYC Landmarks Preservation. Colin Powell should be ashamed..is he once again being “used” by the political powers?

  2. Contrary to Sarah Carroll’s comment the applicant did NOT follow the public hearing process. The project was never presented to the community or CB9 Landmarks committee for comment.
    I would also be interested in knowing the authors of the “written testimony from the community” in support of this project and just how many Harlem residents attended the hearing – NONE, I would guess, since concerned residents in the historic district were alerted to this issue on the morning of the LPC public hearing by someone who just happened to come across the information online. Neighbors on either side of the proposed project then quickly scrambled to lodge their concerns with LPC by email that morning. Based on our experience with similar projects, there is usually a notification phase and meetings with community residents and presentations to the community board. None of this happened! Why? Because of the high profile names associated with this project including the design firm which has some association with the Clinton Foundation. This action is abominable on the part of City College and LPC. But, hardly surprising! The institution of City College for the last 40 years in my recollection has “occupied space” within the Hamilton Heights community with minimal interaction and outreach to its neighbors while LPC is entering mid-life crises not knowing where to go, vapid and bending to the needs of developers and political will! An open public process, you say? Ah! Would political collusion be more like it? Not sure…but in any case Hamilton Heights Historic District is left holding the sort end of the stick.

  3. I don’t know the details of the approval process but I do know that this addition has no place in a landmarked district. I love good contemporary architecture and I love NYC’s historic districts. This block has remained intact and has escaped tear downs and unsightly additions. How could anyone concerned with preserving historic neighborhoods approved this addition? This addition is no glass pyramid in the Louvre courtyard and or an Apple store that is a floating glass cube. This is an ugly enclosed structure sheathed in glass so that we’ll think it’s daring and beautiful and state of the art. A real Emperor’s New Clothes for us all. The public will have to live with this a long time and I’m sure it will be viewed as an eye sore just like City College’s North Academic Campus building which is a total disaster from the outside and on the inside. The footprint of the building on Convent is very small. Why not do some infill in the south part of City College’s campus for the Colin Powell Institute and restore this townhouse as the Admissions Office or the President’s Office? City College would never approve an ugly addition like this to Sheppard Hall in the historic part of their campus. Proceeding with something this ugly is insensitive and contemptible.

  4. Sarah Carroll states that “this project was reviewed and approved through a transparent public process that included presenting the proposal to the Landmarks Commissioners, with an opportunity for public testimony on the project”. Like the commenters above, I can also attest that there were no signs posted anywhere in the neighborhood advertising meetings or the LPC hearing. I belong to several neighborhood online list-serves and the meeting was never posted using those sources, so I’m not sure how they were notifying local residents. I also walk my dogs three times a day on that very block and notice whenever flyers are posted. When Columbia started all their expansion work I was able to find out what the plan was and also subscribe to a weekly bulletin which outlines the progress. City College doesn’t seem to care about their neighbors and have managed to convey to the Landmarks Commission that they did everything necessary to comply with their guidelines. I’ve finally now seen the proposed addition and find it shocking that it has been approved. It seems awfully fishy to me on both City College’s and the Landmarks Commission’s part.

  5. As the owner of a house in the Hamilton Heights Historic district  I wonder what the Landmarks Preservation Committee would say if I wanted to hang a huge glass and steel monstrosity, visible from the street, on its historic façade. Individual homeowners and businessman wishing to do anything to their property are closely scrutinized and forced by LPC to run a gauntlet of rules and regulations which drags on for months. Meanwhile politically connected institutions such as CUNY or the Brooklyn Museum of Art are apparently free to do whatever they please with their historic buildings. Another tale of two cities.
    I also find it ironic that the building is to house the Colin L Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. According to the schools website: ”The Center was founded by General Colin L. Powell (CCNY, 1958) to build a culture of service and to inspire young people with a sense of public purpose, vision and responsibility, and to strengthen connections between campus and communities”. If the way CCNY has dealt with the community in this case is any indication of how they view strengthening connections between campus and community, the neighborhood is in for a rough time. But then again the General honed his community skills winning hearts and minds in Vietnam and bringing democracy to Iraq.

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