BOARD 7 SPLIT ON YORK PREP EXPANSION

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A revived seven-year-old plan by York Preparatory School to expand into a rear lot hit a snag last week as Community Board 7 declined to approve the school’s request for a variance.

The independent school, at 40 W. 68th St., is seeking to build an addition of 2,427 square feet on its zoning lot to provide on-site space for the “Jump Start” academic support program, which York says will be used by a quarter of the student body. The school says the addition will also include a nurse’s office, which presently does not exist, and a small grandstand area for spectators within the school’s gym.

Neighbors, however, have complained that the expansion will compromise views and rear-yard space.

A view of York Prep from the rear-yard of 27 W. 67th St. Inset: the front of the school on West 68th Street. Photos by Andrew Schwartz

A view of York Prep from the rear-yard of 27 W. 67th St. Inset: the front of the school on West 68th Street. Photos by Andrew Schwartz

While he sympathizes with resident opposition, York’s headmaster, Ronald Stewart, said he must think pragmatically.

“I understand that our project will impact the view of a couple of residents behind the school,” Stewart said. “I also understand why these people are opposed, but I’m caught in the middle and the school needs the space.”

Community board Chair Helen Rosenthal said that controversy surrounding the project stems from numerous neighbors both behind and to the side of the school who believe that York’s expansion will “encroach upon their views.” These include residents in the building immediately to the west of the school, who have terraces that would abut the proposed addition, as well as neighbors at 27 W. 67th St., some of whom have windows and yards facing the rear of the proposed addition.

Rosenthal said the board was divided over whether to allow the expansion.

“It was unusual,” she said. “It was real democracy in action.”

Paul Taylor, a resident of the historic building at 27 W. 67th St., spoke out against the project at the March 3 full board meeting. In a subsequent interview, Taylor said that the space between his north-facing window and the proposed addition would go from its current 75 feet to about 15 feet.

“The school’s addition would definitely devalue my apartment substantially,” he said.

Taylor said he is willing to try and reach a compromise with York.

“We’ve shown a willingness to try and work this out with the school, but they have rejected our suggested alternate plans, calling them ‘cost prohibitive’.”

York’s headmaster said the school rejected the alternative plan because of both time constraints and financial concerns.

“The alternate plan that Mr. Taylor submitted involved substantial internal changes to the school’s structure, and I couldn’t afford to take the chance that the school would be under construction when our students returned for the school year,” Stewart said. “For us, the alternate plan was prohibitive due to time and not money. That’s why we rejected it.”

Taylor said the addition should not be permitted for multiple reasons. He points out that key among those reasons is that the school has not provided any financial information to the board.

“That’s part of the reason why they lost at the community board level,” he said.
Proving financial hardship is one of the five “tests” that the New York City Board of Standards & Appeals uses when determining whether or not to grant a variance.

The board of directors at 27 W. 67th St. has hired a legal team to fight the project, should it receive approval from the Board of Standards & Appeals. Buildings at 17 W. 67th St. and 33 W. 67th St. are also opposed.

Arlene Simon, president of Landmark West, an Upper West Side preservation organization, is concerned as well.

“We’re concerned with open spaces and keeping the rear yards of brownstones clear,” she said. “We’re not fans of the York project.”

Simon also said she was troubled by the fact that the school’s architect, Larry Horowitz, was a former co-chair of Board 7’s Planning & Zoning Committee, which has been renamed Land Use.

Horowitz did not attend the March 5 meeting, but has attended Board 7 meetings on the matter in the past. Rosenthal said he has always been up front about having York as a client and added that she did not think his presence created a conflict for the board.

“This can have enormous impact on the neighborhood,” said Page Cowley, a local preservation architect and member of Board 7. Cowley is hoping that the school and its affected neighbors can sort things out amicably. “The problem is that everyone in New York is trying to fit a full gallon into a pint pot.”

York’s expansion plan will next go to the Board of Standards & Appeals for review.

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