Tuesday, May 26, 2015

City Revises Destructive Zoning Proposal

In March 2015, the City Planning Commission announced a massive citywide rezoning proposal that would raise height limits across the city and weaken hard-won neighborhood contextual zoning protections.  The stated justification for such radical changes: affordable housing.  Yet, the proposal contains no provisions to guarantee the creation of affordable housing.  While developers clearly stand to gain from loosened development controls, communities would suffer.

YOU SPOKE UP!  And it made a difference.  Thank you.  (If you haven’t yet weighed in, please scroll to the end of this post for tips on how to reach out.)

Acknowledging strong pushback from groups like LANDMARK WEST! and other dedicated New Yorkers, the Department of City Planning first extended the deadline for public comments, then issued a letter dated May 15, 2015, describing modest changes to the plan and the intent to provide additional information explaining how specific communities would be impacted.

Some good news is that height limits in midblock R8B districts (designed to protect rowhouse-scale midblocks) would remain unchanged.  The bad news is there are still troubling increases in height limits for new development in the eleven remaining districts. Citywide, height limits are still proposed to be raised by 20-30%.  On the Upper West Side alone, allowable building height will increase by 21% in R8A districts, 27% in R10A districts, and 30% in R9A districts.
Potential maximum build-out in an R9A district under the proposed rezoning.
Additionally, the plan still rests on questionable assumptions and falsely claims New Yorkers must choose between affordability and neighborhood character.  As much as New York City needs affordable housing, senior living and architectural quality, it also needs assurances.  The plan is long on laudable goals, but short on mechanisms for actually achieving — and sustaining — them.  The proposal contains no provisions that actually require developers to build any affordable and senior housing at all, leaving us with glut of excess luxury units.  The one-size-fits-all solution is simply, "Build more."  At best, the stated policy goals are wishful thinking.  At worst, they provide cover for what is, in reality, a massive giveaway to developers.

Inclusionary housing — the primary vehicle advanced by this proposal — accounted for only 1.7% of new housing growth between 2005 and 2013 according to New York City Council Member Brad Lander's Inclusionary Zoning in New York City report.  Under the proposed zoning amendments, the City predicts the creation of 8,000 affordable units a year for ten years, far short of the current demand.  Furthermore, the proposal disregards the demonstrated link between inclusionary housing and loss of existing affordable units.  To read LANDMARK WEST’s full position, see our letter to Carl Weisbrod, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission.

Big-money real-estate interests are eager to see the rules change.  We need to work together to make sure that doesn't happen.  If you haven’t already done so, write to Community Board 7 (mail@cb7.org).  Feel free to use following text:

I do not want the current and future contextual neighborhood zoning protections to be weakened by allowing height limits within these protected areas to be raised by 20-30%.  The proposed citywide rezoning plan would overturn communities’ hard-won zoning and historic district protections in one fell swoop.  The result would be higher, bulkier, out-of-character new buildings that undermine individual neighborhoods’ human scale and unique sense of place.  This is not the way to ensure affordability, architectural quality, and quality of life in our city.  I remain extremely concerned about the impact the revised plan would have on historic resources, neighborhood character and quality of life. Please do not allow this zoning proposal to pass.

And send it to the following:

Hon. Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President 
Phone: (212) 669-8300

Hon. Helen Rosenthal, City Council District 6
District Office Phone: (212) 873-0282

Hon. Mark Levine, City Council District 7
District Office Phone: (212) 928-6814

For more information about City Council districts, please click here; or about Community Boards, click here.

We are not alone!  Click here and here to read excellent articles by our colleagues at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.  This is an issue that affects us all!

On Wednesday, March 25, neighborhood groups, community leaders, and elected officials spoke out in unity against a massive citywide rezoning proposal that would raise height limits across the city and weaken hard-won contextual zoning protections, benefiting developers while hurting communities.

Read testimony from the March 25, 2015 "scoping session" at the City Planning Commission:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Celebrating Memorial Day The Upper West Side Way: At The Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument

Prominently situated on Riverside Drive at 89th Street, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected in memory of the New York regiments that fought in the Civil War. Designed by Charles and Arthur Stoughton and Paul E.M. Duboy, the monument was built between 1900-1902 after a long series of delays, which involved funding, siting, and design changes. The brothers formed the firm Stoughton & Stoughton in 1894; amongst its respected works is the landmarked 52nd Police Precinct Station House in the Bronx. Duboy was a French architect best known for his work on the Ansonia Hotel. The three collaborated to design the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument and the cornerstone was laid on December 15, 1900, with Governor Theodore Roosevelt officiating. Construction was completed in 1902, and the Monument was unveiled on May 30, Decoration (Memorial) Day, following a parade by Civil War veterans up Riverside Drive to the site.  

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is a simple and dignified white marble structure, based on the Hellenistic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, although built on a much larger scale. Set off above a series of balustraded terraces, it rises to a height of about 100 feet. A colonnade consisting of twelve Corinthian columns, 36 feet high, rises above a high-rusticated marble base. The colonnade carries an entablature adored with a full frieze containing the inscription: “To the memory of the Brave Soldiers and Sailors who Saved the Union.” The lowest course of rustication is adorned with a handsome wave molding incorporating laurel and oak leaves, while a cornice with closely spaced medallions surmounts the base. A single entrance set in the base has a marble enframement adorned by a laurel-lead molding and crowned by a cornice supporting an eagle. The inscription “In Memoriam” appears above this doorway which contains a handsome bronze door. Adapted from the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report [Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, 1976]. Read the full text.

The Monument, which once served as the terminus of the Memorial Day Parade, will have its annual Memorial Day observance Tuesday, May 26 starting at 10:00AM. This year is particularly significant as it is also the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. For more information, click here.

The interior, pictured below, is rarely open to the public. It was recently featured in the Building Blocks Section of the New York Times“Interior of Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument Remains a Hidden Jewel,” David Dunlap. May 20, 2015. 

Above: The great dome is ornamented with green mosaic palm fronds and topped by an oculus through which one can see a cupola of polished marble that sparkles like a celestial, faceted jewel. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

The monument was designated a Scenic Landmark in 1976 and was among the first Landmarks designated on the Upper West Side following the passage of the 1965 Landmarks Law. 

Visit this site here.
The Soldiers’ & Sailors’ site is one of the landmarks featured on Landmark West!’s Google Field TripApp, which provides history about various sites (both designated landmarks and those LW! wishes will be)on the Upper West Side. Download the APP to your Smartphone and enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Arlene's Graduation Celebration PART 2: Summer School

Before Arlene Simon, no West Sider had stepped up to the challenge of unifying people concerned about the then-eroding architectural character of the neighborhood under a single preservation banner. That banner became Landmark West! After thirty eventful years on the preservation playground, Arlene has graduated and passed the torch to Kate Wood, LW's long-time director and president since January 2015. Join us Wednesday, June 3rd at 6pm, to celebrate Arlene's distinguished record of (mostly) high marks! Suggested Donation- contributions go to our children's education program "Keeping the Past for the Future" (KPF).

RSVP to landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org or call (212) 496-8110. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sacred Sites Open House Weekend - May 16 & 17

LW! is a proud co-sponsor of this year's event, organized by our colleagues at the New York Landmarks Conservancy.  Congregations all over the city and state will open their doors to New Yorkers and visitors alike to explore their extraordinary art and architecture.

Among the many participating institutions are these Upper West Side landmarks:

Address: 302 West 91st Street (West End Avenue)
Architect: Heins & La Farge
Date: 1893-94
Style: Gothic Revival

It was not until 1954 that the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church—also known by its Greek name, Evangelismos—moved into its current location, which was originally built for the Fourth Presbyterian Church. The church was designed by the firm Heins & La Farge, son of the artist and renowned stained glass window maker John La Farge. In the 1950’s the Greek Orthodox Church added certain details to the interior like the carved wooden screen and the multi-tiered crystal chandeliers imported from then Czechoslovakia.
Read more here

Address: 120 W. 69th Street (Btw. Broadway & Columbus)
Architect: William H. Day (1876), remodeled by J.D. Fouquet (1897)
Date: 1876

Acquired in 1897 by St. Stephen’s Episcopal parish and remodeled by J.D. Fouquet, the original church was designed by William H. Day for the Church of the Transfiguration, the oldest sanctuary on the Upper West Side.  Eventually St. Stephen’s Church merged with Christ Church, which was the second oldest Episcopal church started in 1793. Read more here.

Address: 3 West 65th Street
Architect: Schickel & Ditmars
Date: 1902-1904
Style: Gothic

At the time the church was founded, in 1868, the congregation was one of the few exclusively English-speaking Lutheran congregations in New York City.
Read more here.

Address: 2 West 64th Street
Architect: Robert D. Kohn
Date: 1909/1910
Style: Art Noveau

The New York Society for Ethical Culture, founded in 1876 by Dr. Felix Adler, built a school (adjacent to the meeting house on CPW, designed by Carrere & Hastings) and after built the meeting house. “The exterior, influenced by the Vienna Secession, is free of any but geometric details. The only representational element is the relief by Estelle Rumbold Kohn, showing the stages of a man’s life,” David Dunlap.* Read more here.

Address: 165 West 86th St.
Architect: Original chapel built 1883-85, Leopold Eidlitz, architect; current church and chapel façade built 1889-90, Henry Kilburn, architect
Date: 1883-1885
Style: Romanesque Revival

West-Park Presbyterian Church, “one of the finest Romanesque sanctuaries in Manhattan,*”  is a religious institution that can be traced to 1829. Read more here.


And these not-yet-designated landmarks:

Address: 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street
Architect: Heins & La Farge, Ralph Adams Cram
Date: 1892- still building
Style: Romanesque Revival, Gothic/ Neo-Gothic Revival

One of the largest Cathedrals in the world, Cathedral St. John the Divine remains unfinished to this day though its construction began over 100 years ago. Read more here.

Address: 225 W. 99th Street
Architect: Robert W. Gibson
Date: 1891
Style: Romanesque

Present-day St. Michael’s Church is a descendant of a parish that formed when the Upper West Side was still the village of Bloomingdale. The first St. Michael’s was built on this site in 1806. Decorated by 22-foot apsidal windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company. Read more here.

*All text adapted from: Dunlap, David. From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

CB7 Rejects Variances for First Church of Christ, Scientist Conversion

dnainfo.com has a great article covering Community Board 7's full board meeting from Tuesday.  At this meeting, the full board declined to follow the Land Use Committee's vote to approve Board of Standards and Appeals "BSA" variances which would have allowed the developer concessions to shirk certain building code requirements.

While LANDMARK WEST! is completely behind the protection and preservation of this individual landmark, and fully supports its re-use, the design goes too far asking too much of the building, without respecting the existing architectural character.  Appropriate alternate re-uses exist that would not require the severe alterations as proposed while undermining of the codes set in place to protect all of us.

Please read Emily Frost's reporting on the topic here and scroll down for LW! testimony from the hearing:

Testimony of LANDMARK WEST!

Certificate of Appropriateness Committee
Before the Full Board of Community Board 7
361 Central Park West
May 5, 2015

LANDMARK WEST! is a not-for-profit community organization committed to the preservation of the architectural heritage of the Upper West Side.

We wish to comment on the application to the Board of Standards and Appeals for the conversion of the former First Church of Christ, Scientist (Carrère & Hastings, 1899-1903, an Individual Landmark designated in 1974) into a 39-unit residential building, requiring six waivers under the New York City Zoning Resolution and Multiple Dwelling Law.

I think we all recognize that 361 Central Park West, the former First Church of Christ, Scientist, is one of the crown jewels of the Upper West Side It was designed by the same architects, Carrere & Hastings, who gave us the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and the Frick Museum across the park on East 70th Street It was among the first Upper West Side buildings to become an Individual Landmark (in 1974).  In that sense, it’s like our New York Public Library.  This is about neighborhood identity and preserving the integrity of this landmark in a way we can be proud of.

LW! has opposed this proposed adaptive reuse because of the dramatic impact it will have on the fabric of this building. Century-old stained-glass windows will be removed and reconfigured—essentially destroyed—because some hypothetical condo buyer might not like them.  The secondary facades of the building will be carved up to create windows.  And, when the dust settles, we’ll have not only a desecrated landmark, but a substandard living environment by any definition.  This concept has been flawed from Day One.

The purpose of the waiver and variance process is to provide relief to property owners who really need it. It is not a tool to enable speculative developers to “max out” the economic potential of a site.  “Reasonable use” is the benchmark.  Once we loosen the standard on what constitutes “reasonable” development in our neighborhood, we never get it back. 

Why should you, in your roles as guardians of our community, why should you feel compelled to relax the rules that everyone else lives by—rules that we all agree are important for quality of life—for a development like this?  Our city has enough cases where public assets are given away for little return—just look at the midtown skyline.  Let’s not add this site to the list.

And please don’t allow yourselves to be misled by warnings that the landmark will sit empty and derelict.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Just look at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on West 81st Street—also a church, also a landmark, also a residential conversion, but on a much more challenging midblock site.  They found a way to recycle the building that involved minimal changes to the landmark and no waivers or variances.

And look around you at all of the sensitive, profitable uses of landmark buildings—the Upper West Side has over 3,000 of them.   The presence of a Landmark does not, in and of itself, constitute a “unique physical condition” under the required finding (a) of Zoning Resolution Section 72-21.  Yet, that’s the crux of this developer’s argument.

This application also does not meet the required finding (d) of Zoning Resolution Section 72-21 – that the hardship not be self-created.  The problem, if there is one, is the developer’s desire to shoehorn 39 apartments into the building.

These variances fail to meet the findings and should be denied.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MOBIA Museum to Close!

In the wake of the sale of 1865 Broadway by the American Bible Society to Avalon Bay Communities for a planned 39-floor residential building, MOBIA, the Museum of Biblical Art is set to shutter forever on June 14th.

As recent as last fall, the Museum was honing in on rental space on East 42nd Street but ultimately plans fell through.

In addition to the cultural loss of the Museum, the Upper West Side will lose the architecture that the American Bible Society commissioned, including its Anabelle Selldorf interior, its FX Fowle glass extension and the original 1966 structure by Skidmore Owings and Merrill.

The American Bible Society, itself leaves NYC, after nearly two centuries for Philadelphia, taking with it their remaining employees.

Please read further information from the MOBIA Press Release  and also covered in the New York Times.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jeffrey Kroessler op-ed on 50 Years of the Landmarks Law

LW! Board member Jeffrey Kroessler has a terrific op-ed in yesterday's Daily News: 

Wrecking crane moves in for kill on the Morosco Theater at W. 45th St. in 1982

Image: Clarence Davis

“Historic preservation saved New York City: 50 years after the passages of a landmark law, celebrate its legacy”

Treat yourself to a full read.  Here's an especially meaty excerpt, which follows an inventory of good things historic preservation has done New York City:

“Today, the city takes for granted the benefits of preservation while refusing to embrace it. Critical voices find a more receptive audience in both city government and among the general public, creating an odd alliance of builders favoring untrammeled development and progressives seeking to advance desired social ends.

“But the protection of historic parts of the city is not a quaint idea with no value in the present.”

Bravo, Jeff!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ALERT: Buying the Sky?

Image Source: The Architect's Newspaper

Join us at a special Town Hall Meeting 
at the main New York Public Library
5th Ave at 42nd St. on April 28th
The Central Park Sunshine Task Force of Community Board 5 wants to hear from YOU about an issue that affects us all.  Billionaires' Row is spreading. More shockingly tall towers are not only sprouting up in midtown, but also creeping up the east and west sides of Central Park.   

As things are, this luxury mega-development is taking place 
with no public review of individual projects or their cumulative impacts - a lack of municipal oversight as egregious as the City's concurrent effort to roll back neighborhood contextual zoning protections.    
Send Mayor de Blasio and his city agencies a strong message.  Join the campaign to take back our sky, parks, landmarks, and neighborhoods!
Space is very limited, so please RSVP today for this free forum at:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

50 Years Later, the New York Times Looks Ahead

On the eve the the New York Landmark Law's official Golden Anniversary, The New York Times pens an editorial with a graphic timeline of key Landmark milestones accompanied by political insights regarding reactions at the time.  This simple reminder of the inseparable reality of politics to our built environment is particularly timely, the New York Times points out, as Mayor deBlasio seeks a city of more "equality and diversity" amidst a promise to revitalize a Landmarks Commission with ever-increasing responsibility and no
 significant additional funding.
McKim Mead and White's IRT Powerhouse on 59th Street, one of the LPC's proposed sites to de-calendar. 

While it squarely addresses the current concerns for what they are, the editors have stopped short of addressing the newsworthy 96 sites the Commission has proposed to de-calendar without a vote of designation.  And although, the editors look forward to the next steps politically, they too are caught up in the politics, and fail to address the built environment- specifically what would be the next New York City landmark that should be saved?  Which Historic District should be protected?  What do you, our readers think?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Deadline EXTENDED!

Write to City Planning 
by 5pm on Thursday, April 30
to oppose Mayor de Blasio's 
Proposed ReZoning plan

Or send letters to:  
Robert Dobruskin
Director, Environmental Assessment and Review Division
NYC Department of City Planning
22 Reade Street, 4E
New York, NY 10007
Below is a sample message:

I support efforts to defend the current and future contextual neighborhood zoning protections from being weakened by allowing height limits within these protected areas to be raised by 20-30%. The proposed citywide rezoning plan would overturn communities' hard-won zoning and historic district protections in one fell swoop. The result would be higher, out-of-character new buildings that undermine individual neighborhoods' human scale and unique sense of place. This is not the way to ensure affordability, architectural quality, and quality of life in our city. The environmental review for the rezoning plan must be expanded to ensure height limits can be maintained and impacts on historic resources, neighborhood character, and quality of life are taken into account for every neighborhood that will be affected. More information on the plan should be made available to the public, and there should be public briefings in all affected neighborhoods.