Rooftop addition on brownstone approved

Applicant required special permit because proposed addition would violate sliver law’s height limit. On January 6, 2010, the City Planning Commission approved a proposal by 161 West 78th Street LLC to build a one-story addition atop an existing five-story brownstone at 161 West 78th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District of Manhattan. The twelve-foot addition would not be visible from the street and would increase the building’s height to 70 feet. While the underlying R8B zoning permits a maximum building height of 75 feet, the owner required a special permit because the addition would violate the sliver’s law additional height regulation.

The sliver law applies to certain zoning districts and limits buildings with a width of 45 feet or less to the height equivalent of either the width of the street it fronts or to the height of an abutting structure if it is taller than the street’s width. Because the brownstone is only nineteen feet wide and West 78th Street is 60 feet wide, the owner was limited to enlarging the building to a maximum height of 60 feet.

Buildings initially approved the owner’s building plans in 2007, using an interpretation of the zoning regulations that excluded setback penthouses from the sliver law. Buildings later changed that policy based on a ruling by the Board of Standards & Appeals and notified the owner that the addition would be considered non-complying. The owner subsequently submitted a special permit request to the Department of City Planning.

At the Commission’s hearing, the owner’s environmental consultant testified that the Landmarks Preservation Commission had approved the proposed addition and confirmed that the owner had established a continuing maintenance program for the building. Larry Hirschfield, a co-owner of the brownstone, acknowledged that neighbors in a rear building expressed concern that the addition would block access to light in their back yard. He noted, however, that a detailed shadow analysis demonstrated the addition would have a “negligible effect” in the rear.

The Commission approved the plan, finding that the brownstone’s proposed height would be consistent with the buildings along West 78th Street. The Commission noted that Landmarks had approved a rooftop addition for an adjacent brownstone and pointed out that five of the eight brownstones on the block had rooftop additions with similar heights as the applicants.

The City Council has until March 2, 2010 to review the plan.

ULURP Process
Lead Agency: CPC,Neg.Dec.
Comm.Bd.: MN 7,App’d, 29-6-1
Boro.Pres.: App’d
CPC: App’d, 8-0-0
Council: Pending

CPC: 161 West 78th Street (C 100012 ZSM – spec. perm.) (Jan. 6, 2010).

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