Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Penthouse Atop Penthouse Would Harm Character & Environment of Neighborhood

Please cut & paste & send the message below to BSA prior to the January 27, 2009 Public Hearing by Regular Mail or Email: http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/mailbsa.html


Ms. Meenakshi Srinivisaan
Chair, NYC Board of Standards & Appeals
40 Rector Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10006

Re: BSA Calendar # 162-08-BZ: 150 East 93 Street, Manhattan NYC

Dear Madame Chair,

I strongly object to the proposal to construct a penthouse atop the extant penthouse at 150 East 93rd Street on historic Marx Brothers Place in Carnegie Hill, and respectfully ask that BSA deny applicant's request for a special permit.

If approved, this project would have significant adverse impacts on the character of this unique historic neighborhood and its fragile ecosystem.

1. Applicant's proposed project poses significant adverse impacts to the environment:

A. Land Use, Zoning and Public Policy: Applicant’s proposal to construct a penthouse atop his extant penthouse is completely inconsistent with the area in which the proposed project site is located and would result in significant adverse impacts. Historic East 93rd Street is subject to R8B zoning. Applicant’s proposal flies in the face of all applicable NYC zoning resolutions. If approved, applicant’s proposal would constitute a precedent-setting breach of the historic skyline and runs contrary to all sound principles of land use, zoning and public policy.

B. Socioeconomic Conditions: The affected neighborhood has been critically stressed by recent development pressures which continue to compete with the community’s ongoing campaign to have the Carnegie Hill Historic District extended one block east so as to include this important collection of 19th century houses. The fact that applicant’s proposal, if approved, would have a significant adverse impact on the socioeconomic conditions in this historic neighborhood is incontrovertible.

C. Community Facilities and Services: In this critical period when the city and state budgets are overextended, the construction and development attendant to applicant’s proposed project would impose an unsustainable demand upon fire, traffic and police services, posing potential dangers and distracting from the vital needs of the area residents and businesses.

D. Open Space: Applicant’s proposed project would have a significant adverse impact on open space. 150E93 abuts a contiguous row of historic gardens whose floral and fauna would be adversely affected by the increase of shadow that a second story on applicant’s penthouse would naturally create. The geometry that dictates the additional shadow is self-explanatory.

E. Shadows: There is no question that an additional story on the extant penthouse at 150E93 would create additional shadow. This deprivation of light would have an adverse impact on the historic row of contiguous gardens that run along the property lines of the 19th century rowhouses on East 93rd Street and serve as nesting, resting and feeding places for migratory birds and a host of other flora and fauna.

F. Historic Resources: Applicant’s proposed project faces the Carnegie Hill Historic District and abuts a row of tiny 19th century townhouses which includes brownstones that are older than any of the brownstones already within the CHHD and which is celebrated by architectural historians and preservationists for its unique steeped-down roofscape. The proposed project would constitute a precedent-setting breach of the historic skyline and adversely impact these vital and incomparable historic resources.

G. Urban Design/Visual Resources: If approved, the proposed project would impose significant adverse impacts on Urban Design and Visual Resources. East 93rd Street is cherished for its unique stepped-down roofscape. To add a penthouse atop the penthouse at 150E93 would mar the historic skyline and corrupt the viewshed on this historic block.

H. Neighborhood Character: The proposed project would have significant adverse impacts on the character of the neighborhood. It would overburden this tiny block with more traffic, noise and carbon emissions at a time when the block is already at an environmental tipping point due to the increased traffic congestion, pollution and loss of flora and fauna caused by the ongoing construction project at 180 East 93rd Street.

Since East 93rd Street is the Rosetta stone to any credible and scholarly understanding of the development history of Carnegie Hill, applicant’s request for special permission to subvert the zoning law, the only legal protection we have until the block is included in the Historic District, demonstrates a callous disregard for the community and NYC’s valuable historic narrative.

Further, in light of the city’s economic downturn, it is imperative to vigilantly protect historic residential neighborhoods which retain their property value more competitively than other real estate.

I. Natural Resources: The proposed project would adversely impact the natural resources of air, light and water as discussed above.

J. Hazardous Materials: The proposed project would have significant adverse impacts on the environment related to hazardous materials. As 150E93 was built in the 1920s and has been repainted and retrofitted countless times in the ensuing years, it is more likely than not that the proposed project will expose the historic use of asbestos and lead paint in addition to a whole host of other hazardous materials.

K. Waterfront Revitalization Program: East 93rd Street boasts a unique view of the East River. Applicant’s proposal would have a significant impact on this unique viewshed and upon the relationship between the river and this historic neighborhood.

L. Infrastructure: The proposed project would have a significant adverse impact on the city’s infrastructure. In addition to the increased traffic discussed above, applicant has stated that the proposed second penthouse is in contemplation of an increase in occupancy which will unquestionably have an adverse impact on the city’s already stressed and antiquated waste and sewage treatment systems. Further, the proposed construction would impose additional stress on the city’s transportation systems as applicant’s employees would be commuting back and forth from the site.

M. Solid Waste and Sanitation Services: The proposed project would have significant adverse impacts on the city’s solid waste and sanitation services. Applicant has stated that the proposed second penthouse is in contemplation of an increase in occupancy which will unquestionably have an adverse impact on the city’s already stressed and antiquated waste and sewage treatment systems.

N. Energy: The proposed project will have an adverse impact on the city’s limited energy supply and pose an added burden to the city’s antiquated electrical grid which is already significantly overloaded as evidenced by the numerous brown-outs and black-outs the city endures every summer.

O. Traffic and Parking: The proposed project would have a significant impact on traffic and parking. If approved, the proposed project would overburden this tiny block with more traffic, noise and carbon emissions at a time when the block is already at an environmental tipping point due to the increased traffic congestion and loss of parking caused by the ongoing construction project at 180E93.

The combined and cumulative adverse environmental impact would be untenable as the City already gave the developer at 180E93 authority to block a significant swath of the street and to remove no less than four parking spaces on this block.

The noise and traffic-related incidents have already soared as a result of 180E93. This tiny block can not sustain any additional traffic and parking burdens of the type a major construction project like this proposal would impose.

P. Transit and Pedestrian: The proposed project and its construction would impose an unnecessary burden on the neighborhood, and increase transit and pedestrian trips in the area as applicant’s employees would be commuting back and forth from the site whether by train, car, bus or on foot.

Q. Air Quality: The proposed project would have an adverse impact on air quality. In addition to toxic construction dust, the increased traffic attendant to this proposed construction project would contribute daily to carbon emissions and impose an overall greater carbon impact on air quality in the neighborhood.

R. Noise: The proposed project would have an adverse impact on area noise levels. Historic East 93rd Street has always been a very quiet residential block. The proposed construction project would impose a sharp increase of noise in the neighborhood.

S. Construction Impacts: As stated above, the proposed construction would have significant adverse impacts on the environment, including, but not limited to, construction dust (affecting public health and the flora and fauna which live in the historic gardens below); increased traffic; increased noise; increased energy burden; increased stress on infrastructure, parking and the city’s waste disposal system.

T. Public Health: As cited above, the proposed project would have significant adverse impacts on air quality, traffic, natural resources, hazardous materials and noise, all of which contribute negatively to public health, putting a greater burden on the city to contend with the detrimental effects.

2. Applicant's proposed project poses a very real threat to the character of the neighborhood: The neighborhood that would be affected if applicant's request were approved, includes the Carnegie Hill Historic District, which is literally just the other side of Lexington Avenue, and historic East 93rd Street which is subject to R8B zoning.

The fact that 150E93 is discreetly carved out of the subject R8B zoning, and is in fact subject to a looser standard as part of a commercial area, is wholly irrelevant to the application before this Board. For the question remains, “would this proposal have an adverse impact on the historic character of the neighborhood”? And the answer is a resounding “yes”.

A. Unique Roofscape: Architects and historic preservationists give great value to the unique stepped-down roofscape on East 93rd Street. Because this is one of the steepest slopes left in Manhattan, the roofscapes on both the north & south sides of the block literally step-down the hill, creating a zig-zag effect.

This historic 19th century skyline is so remarkable that the partnership project of the Municipal Arts Society & City Lore, Place Matters, has devoted an entire page to historic Marx Brothers Place on its web site.

As 150E93 already towers over this collection of tiny four story houses, any vertical addition would stick out like a sore thumb and breach the sanctity of 93rd Street’s historic skyline and unique roofscape. Literally doubling the size of the extant penthouse, by adding a whole new floor, is not insignificant and would have an adverse impact on the character of the neighborhood.

B. Proximity Poses Threat to Neighborhood’s Historic Character: 150E93 abuts a beautiful row of 19th century houses that are older than any of the brownstones which already enjoy the protection of the Carnegie Hill Historic District.

This marvelous collection of houses was built by George W. Beale in 1865, even pre-dating the extension of Lexington Avenue this far north. The irreplaceable historic treasure trove, these houses represent, is like a turnkey providing access to the finest repository of primary source material relevant to the development history of Carnegie Hill.

To contemplate allowing a breach of the NYC zoning resolution in order to accommodate one man’s desire to construct a penthouse atop his extant penthouse right next door to these ancient homes, whose physical structure and historic narratives are so vital to the city’s collective cultural heritage, runs contrary to public policy and good principles of community planning.

Applicant’s proposal is completely out of scale and context with this tiny block and would have a significant adverse impact on the character of the neighborhood. Applicant’s request for a special permit should be denied.

Thank you for your careful consideration of the very serious issues raised by this proposed project. Again, I respectfully request that BSA deny the applicant’s request for a special permit.

Respectfully submitted,

(please add your name & address)

1 comment:

George said...

I researched the topic a little via Google and it seems to be a 'dead' issue. One particularly angry pro penthouse article seemed to suggest the "so-called celebrities" had won. Yet, none of the blogs on this topic have been updated. Some going back to 2008! What is the story?