LPC refuses to approve illegal, completed addition

Rear yard addition did not meet standard of appropriateness. Following a contentious hearing in April over a one-story addition constructed without Landmarks approval at 12- 14 West 68th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, Landmarks reconvened to discuss the matter on June 9, 2009. The owners built the addition on top of a 1925 studio building, located at the rear of an 1895 Queen Anne-style mansion, and also installed an illegal, antique, wrought-iron fence at the front of the property.

At the April hearing, architect Lester Evan Tour testified that Buildings’ database failed to flag the building as landmarked, and the plan examiners also missed it. Emphasizing that he never intended to bypass the landmarks law, Tour called the addition appropriate for the historic district. 6 CityLand 59 (May 15, 2009).

At the June meeting, Tour again expressed regret at failing to verify that the building sat within a landmarked district. Reiterating the addition’s appropriateness, Tour pointed out that the addition is 48 feet from the street, and is only visible during the winter, when there is no foliage on the trees. Tour added that the owners built the addition so they could rent it out to help pay for structural repairs to the building. The owners also testified, adding that they had no reason to avoid Landmarks during the year-long Buildings approval process and that they simply did not know they needed Landmarks’ approval.

Before the Commissioners commented, Landmarks counsel Mark Silberman noted that Landmarks’ role was to determine whether the project met the standard of appropriateness, and that it could not take punitive measures. Commissioner Stephen Byrns stated that the addition made the rear building taller than the main house, transforming the addition’s character as a secondary structure. Commenting on the illegal fence, Byrns noted its high quality and said that it was potentially acceptable. Commissioner Pablo Vengoechea said that while an addition could work for the site, the existing addition was too tall. Commissioner Libby Ryan said that Landmarks “would never have approved” the addition had it been presented as a regular application.

Landmarks voted unanimously to deny legalization of the addition, but voted to approve the fence.

According to Landmarks, the owners will have to file a new application to correct the illegal addition, either by removing the addition or proposing modifications acceptable to the Commissioners.

LPC: 12-14 West 68th Street, Manhattan (COFA# 09-6052) (June 9, 2009).

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