Three-year conflict over illegal addition resolved

Illegal fifth-floor addition will be removed. Credit: Mary Gillen

Owners will demolish illegal addition, restore original conditions, and build a smaller addition. On March 20, 2012 after several years of back and forth with the building owners, Landmarks approved a proposal to build a new addition on a secondary structure at 12-14 West 68th Street in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. The proposal includes the demolition of an illegal, fifth-floor addition built by the former owner of the building without Landmarks approval. The owner added the 500-square-foot addition to a 1925 studio building attached to the rear of a 1895 Queen Anne-style mansion. The owner tried to legalize the addition in June 2009, claiming that the property’s landmark status did not appear in the Department of Buildings’ Building Information System (BIS) database when filing for permits in September 2005. Landmarks, however, refused, finding that the addition made the rear building inappropriately taller than the main mansion. (See CityLand’s coverage here and here).

The property was sold, and the new owner attempted to legalize the addition in March 2010. The proposal’s architect, Herbert Weber of the Stephen B. Jacobs Group, testified that the addition’s height would be reduced by seven feet, and its windows and facade materials would be changed to replicate the rear building’s lower floors. Landmarks again refused to legalize the proposal. (See CityLand’s coverage here) 7 CityLand 46 (April 15, 2010).

At Landmarks’ March 2012 hearing, Landmarks’ General Counsel, Mark Silberman told the commissioners that Landmarks and the owners were currently involved in litigation regarding Landmarks’ refusal to legalize the addition. Silberman said the current proposal was “a serious attempt” to propose significant changes and resolve the issue.

Herbert Weber presented the modifications, which included demolishing the illegal addition and building a smaller addition that would be set back nine feet. The addition would rise nearly seven feet at the front and ten feet at the rear of the building. Weber said the design of the zinc-clad, 315-square-foot addition was inspired by the existing building, with windows emulating those of the Hotel des Artistes, which sits behind the building. The addition will be used as a third bedroom for the apartment below. A parapet and brickwork previously demolished would be restored.

Manhattan Community Board 7 found the proposal inappropriate, and preservationists and residents attending the hearing opposed the proposal. Allie Kirby, from Landmark West!, the group who first notified Landmarks of the illegal addition, claimed the new addition would still be too visible and would negatively impact the Hotel des Artistes. Kirby argued that Landmarks should require the owners to remove the illegal addition and restore the original conditions.  The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams recommended “pulling the structure in slightly on the sides” to reduce visibility. Nina Grey, identifying herself as a resident of the Upper West Side, said that Landmarks should stand by its prior decisions ordering the removal of the addition “to retain its credibility.”

Despite the opposition, the commissioners found that the proposed addition was minimally visible and appropriate. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter noted that with the removal of the illegal addition and restoration of the building’s original features, the building owner was “starting from scratch,” and the issue was whether the newly proposed addition would be appropriate. Perlmutter found that it was, noting that the minimally visible addition would help finish the building. Commissioner Joan Gerner concurred, stating that she would have supported the proposal had it been presented five years ago. Commissioner Diana Chapin found the massing appropriate, but said the addition could be improved by changing the facade materials.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the plan, but asked Landmarks’ staff to work with the owner on potentially changing the addition’s side paneling.

LPC: 12 West 68th Street, Manhattan (12-4278) (March 27, 2012) (Architects: Stephen B. Jacobs Group).

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