Variance Granted for Expansion of Private School

Fredrick Becker testifies before the Board of Standards and Appeals. Image credit: BSA

Fredrick Becker testifies before the Board of Standards and Appeals. Image credit: BSA

Variance was opposed by local community board, neighborhood groups.  On July 14, 2015 the Board of Standards and Appeals voted to grant a variance to the applicant, Manhattan Country School, for enlarging its new building.  The school currently occupies a five-story townhouse on 7 East 96th Street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and intends to relocate to a four-story building with three mezzanines on 150 West 85th Street in the Upper West Side.  The renovation would divide the subject building’s double-height interior spaces, create a cutout for an interior courtyard, expand the sixth floor, construct a penthouse, and extend the rear yard egress stair.

On March 26, 2015 the Department of Buildings denied the applicant’s permit request, stating the proposal would violate restrictions on floor area ratio, maximum building height, and rear yard obstructions.  A public hearing was held by the Board on April 28, 2015 with a follow-up hearing on June 2.  At the April 28 hearing, applicant’s counsel Fredrick Becker testified the school intends to double from two hundred to four hundred students with their relocation, greatly increasing their need for programmatic space.  Mr. Becker argued the subject building was constructed and used as a music school for college-aged students and its configuration makes it functionally obsolete for any other use.  At the June 2 hearing representatives of the West 85th Street Block Association testified in opposition to the proposal, voicing concerns over the impact on area property values by increasing the height in the building, the impact of the increased bulk on area light and air, and increased noise and traffic.  Before the June hearing, Manhattan Community Board 7 issued a recommendation of disapproval for the proposal.

On July 14, the Board voted 4-0 to approve the variance.  In its decision, the Board cited Cornell Univ. v. Bagnardi, which held an educational institution’s application is to be permitted unless it can be shown to have an adverse effect upon the health, safety, or welfare of the community.  The Board found generalized concerns of traffic and disruption of residential character were insufficient to show the required adverse effect.

BSA:  150 West 85th Street, Manhattan (1-15-BZ) (Jul. 14, 2015) (Fredrick A. Becker, for Manhattan Country School, contract vendee).

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014).

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