Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Landmarks Commission Approves Substantial Expansion for West 83rd Street Row House and Rear Yard

As reported by Cristiana P.

Today at Public Meeting, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) swiftly approved a modified proposal for the row house at 51 West 83rd Street.

As reported on the LW! blog yesterday and by the press, this overwhelming proposal for (simultaneously!) a rooftop addition, a rear yard addition, and the excavation of the entire rear yard to accommodate an indoor-outdoor pool was roundly opposed by both LW!, a coalition of neighbors who came together to voice their concerns, and citywide organizations alarmed by what this could mean for low-density neighborhoods in all five boroughs.  Too much, we proclaimed in unison!

First reviewed by the LPC at Public Hearing on July 26, 2011, the Commissioners noted areas in which they'd like to see further modification (ie: the height of the rear yard addition, the possibility of truncating the rear yard excavation to allow for planting, etc.). Two quick weeks later, the application was back before the LPC with slight modifications; enough to receive an approval from the Commission. 
The changes:

Click on the image to view an enlarged "rough sketch" of the approved work.

Three-story rear yard addition, topped with a terrace accessible via the fourth story.

MODIFIED and APPROVED PROPOSAL: Third floor downsized; no longer a fourth story terrace, now a third story terrace.

Click on the image to view an enlarged "rough sketch" of the approved work.

Excavation of the entire rear yard. The easternmost side to accommodate the pool; the western portion to accommodate underground mechanicals.

MODIFIED and APPROVED PROPOSAL: No change to the pool side of the rear yard; excavation of eastern side of the rear yard reduced by 10 feet, to accommodate plantings.

Modest tweaks, these updates barely scratch the surface of the overall inappropriateness of the proposed additions.

This approval sets a clear, negative precedent for backyards not only on the Upper West Side but city-wide. The historic character of No. 51 will be irreversibly lost. The inappropriate, insensitive and contextually disconnected design approved to replace it may well become a benchmark against which the LPC evaluates other proposals in the future. A sort of "we've approved bigger, glassier before--at 51 West 83rd Street--so why not here?"

Landmark properties are dynamic resources and must respond to the city's evolving needs. But, as LW! testified before the Commission in July [link], change must be responsibly managed to preserve the character and livability of our historic neighborhoods. The community looks to the LPC to defend the best of New York, and it is unfortunate that the Commissioners did not realize the deep impact their discussion and approval will have on backyards going forward.

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