Friday, August 15, 2014

URGENT: LPC Approves Apthorp Penthouse Addition



LPC Approves Rooftop Penthouse Additions on Apthorp

Landmark West is issuing a call to action to all its members.  It is time to email, snail mail, twitter or phone anyone and every one in City government. Tell them that freezing out the Public is unacceptable.

  • On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, the “11 member” Landmark Preservation Commission appointed by the Mayor voted 6 to Zero to permit the developer to, among other things, permanently deface the rooftop pergolas of the Apthorp Apartments, an architectural gem by Clinton & Russell.
  • When told of this decision of the LPC, Andrew Dolkart, Director of Historic Preservation Program, Columbia University GSAPP, opined: "I continue to feel that this proposal will have a negative impact on a major landmark building. The open pergolas are a major part of the design and their character will be seriously compromised for no other reason than to give the owner additional income.” (August 13, 2014)
  • The Apthorp was designated an individual landmark by a more preservation friendly LPC in 1969, just 4 years after the LPC was established.
  • The pergolas are a key component of this unique structure.  The plan approved by the current LPC would allow the developer to fill in the pergolas and connect them with shed like structures to add additional units thus destroying the open design.  (See image below)

  • This decision of the LPC is particularly shocking in view of the damage that it allows to be done to this architectural gem in the fact of  wide spread opposition from architects, preservation advocates and neighborhood residents and residents of the Apthorp.  It is not the first such decision nor will it be the last to benefit developers while destroying the City's cultural and architectural heritage.
  • The offensive procedural short cut the LPC used to freeze out the public and shut down opposition to the plan that was ultimately approved is part of a systemic attack on the right of the public to have an opportunity to provide effective and timely input on land use decisions that will affect their neighborhoods.  It is time we all stand up and object.  Tell the LPC, the Mayor and the City Council that locking the public out is unacceptable.
  • The protection afforded to landmarks in the City by the Landmark Law can no longer be taken for granted.  It is being eroded by the very agency empowered to provide it.
  • The time to object to this procedure is now, not when it has resulted in the destruction of the integrity of yet another architectural icon.  It is time for you to contact everyone in City government, write the mayor, call your council member, email a member of the LPC or tweet them.  Tell them it is time to stop excluding the public from land use decisions.  It is time to stop treating citizen input as an obstacle.  It is time for our elected and appointed officials to listen to us!  Do it NOW!
Below, take a look at our discussion of this process that puts every landmarked building and historic district at risk:

The decision to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness to the Apthorp developers is substantively wrong and inconsistent with the charge of the LPC. The LPC doesn’t even have its full compliment of 11 members.   Only 8 members are currently serving. Two out of the 8 current members chose not to attend this meeting.  Again shocking but not unusual. Some of the majority who voted for the approval of this inappropriate plan, including the new Chair Meenaksi Srinivasan, hadn't even attended the one and only Public Hearing on the initial plans offered by the applicant. As result, the Chair had not heard any of the input from the public.   But the LPC chose not to hold another Public Hearing on the new plans. 

The procedure used by the LPC to issue the Certificate of Appropriateness to the Apthorp's developers can be summarized as follows.  In this procedure, applicants file their plans with the Commission. The Commission holds a Public Hearing on the initial plans. Those plans are commented upon by the Commission, Community Board, architects, and the public at the initial Public Hearing. After closing the hearing, the Commission discusses the plans and informally declines to grant the Certificate but does not formally reject the plans.  Rather, the Commission directs the applicant to come back with new plans and discuss them with the staff. Once the new plans are received, the Commission sets a Public Meeting. (As you know, a formal rejection would require the applicant to re-file and trigger the scheduling of a Public Hearing on the new plans.) The period between the Public Hearing on the initial plans and the Public Meeting on the new plans can be months or years.   The amendments to the initial plans can be substantial or the new plans presented to the staff can be nothing less than a totally new proposal that bears little resemblance to the initial plans that were the subject of the Public Hearing. There can be multiple redrafts of the plansmultiple private meetings between the applicant and the LPC staff and multiple Public Meetings at which only the applicant and its lawyers, architects and their other representatives speak to the Commission but no more Public Hearings. The public is frozen out.

Our research indicates that there is no rule or statute that provides for this procedure. In an informal conversation with a lawyer for the LPC, it was agreed that there is no such rule.  He observed however that allowing applicants to proceed in this way “moves the process along”. We have no doubt that “moving the process along” may occur; however, the key problem here is that a Public Hearing at which the public may speak has been jettisoned for the purpose of “streamlining” the procedure in favor of the applicant, not for the purpose of Preserving the Landmark Building.

In discussions with experienced preservation advocates, we have determined that this procedure just seemed to appear out of nowhere and that it is now being used with virtually every set of plans about which the Commission has any concerns. In short, the Commission rarely rejects any plan outright. It is our opinion that this procedure has been structured to allow applications to avoid public scrutiny and to quote from Andrew Dolkart's comment on the Apthorp decision "for no other reason that to give the owner additional income."  In our opinion, this "streamlined" procedure is in direct conflict with the language and the spirit of the LPC rules, the legislation that established the LPC as well as the Open Meeting Law.  Its continued use by the LPC puts each and every landmarked building and historic district at risk. The time to object to this procedure is now, not when it has resulted in the destruction of the integrity of yet another architectural icon. It is time for you to contact everyone you know in City government, write the mayor, call your council member, email a member of the LPC or tweet them.   Tell them it is time to stop excluding the Public from land use decisions. It is time to stop treating citizen input as an obstacle. It is time for our elected and appointed officials to listen to us!


Barbara Orlando said...

Shouldn't LW be circulating a petition, advising members where to write, or the like for follow-up? If you did so, I missed it. This vote without opposition is alarming,

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you for sending this out. The LPC process was a travesty. At the Aug. 12the presentation about the Apthorp, there was no discussion at all, just a rubber stamp approval that one sensed had already been decided in a back room. Every single proposal at the Aug. 12th meeting was approved summarily. What has happened to this commission that is supposed to protect New York's finest architecture??

Anonymous said...

Really incredibly sad. And I agree we must fight this! It is in some ways no different than what is happening to the magnificent Christian Science Church on 96th and CPW bought by a developer who is turning into condos. Though the exterior is landmarked, the interior is not. For a month now they have been removing asbestos and gutting everything on the interior, which should all have been landmarked. But there has not been a single public hearing about this well-loved church, over 100 year old historically significant church- in spite of the fact that the interior very much influences what happens on the exterior. The Landmarks Commission again has evaded the responsibilities they are charged with upholding by not allowing a thorough review by the public-and by not reviewing how condominiums can be built in a nearly windowless building without breaking through the exterior granite-and without removing the John La Farge stained glass windows.