Whitney Museum gets variance for addition

Whitney Museum’s programmatic needs warrant variances for height, floor area, and retail space. On July 25, 2006, BSA granted variances to the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Upper East Side Historic District, Manhattan. The additions, including a nine-story, 178-foot Renzo Piano-designed tower required variances for height, setback, floor area, and frontage.

On May 24, 2005, Landmarks approved the museum enlargement and issued a permit on January 5, 2006. 2 CityLand 73 (June 15, 2005). As part of its decision, Landmarks determined that three adjacent brownstones contributed to the historic district and should be preserved. Preservation of the brownstones, however, required variances from BSA for street wall and setback requirements.

The Whitney applied for seven variances, stating that the additions were necessary to accommodate the museum’s programmatic needs of additional gallery space, a film and performing arts center, classrooms, art studios, an expanded library, and a larger entrance. The Whitney also requested a waiver to allow 13,000 sq.ft. of ground-floor retail space, arguing that other spaces within the museum would not accommodate adequate bookstore and restaurant locations. Upon BSA’s request, the Whitney submitted two alternative proposals that required fewer variances but resulted in taller structures with less floor space.

The Coalition of Concerned Whitney Neighbors opposed the plan, arguing that the proposed tower was too large, altered neighborhood character and blocked light and air. The Coalition also argued that the Whitney failed to sufficiently specify its programmatic needs and the proposed retail space was unconnected to the museum’s non-profit programs.

BSA approved the variances and waiver, finding that the Whitney’s non-profit programs warranted deference and that the two lesser- variance proposals were not viable. BSA noted that the Whitney provided significant educational programming and that comparable institutions had received similar deference.

BSA: 933-945 Madison Avenue (The Whitney) (334-05-BZ) (July 25, 2006) (Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, LLP, for Whitney). CITYADMIN

CITYLAND Comment: The Coalition of Concerned Whitney Neighbors, Defenders of the Historic East Side, and Carlyle Hotel, plus two individual neighbors have filed an article 78 petition to appeal BSA’s decision.

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