The Upper West Side has seen its fair share of battles between developers looking to cram as many buildings as possible into its idyllic streets and neighbors who want to maintain the character of the neighborhood. The fight between the owner of 207 W. 75th St. and nearby residents isn’t much different, except that this time the residents have a local celebrity on their side.
NY1 anchor and Upper West Sider Pat Kiernan has been representing his co-op board, of which he is president, in challenging the application from the neighboring building to get a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) that would allow them to construct a 14-story tower, twice as high as they could build as-of-right in the space.
“It’s really simple and it doesn’t just apply to our block,” Kiernan said in an interview. “This is a case of a developer buying a property with the express intent of finding a loophole in the zoning regulations.”
The site in question is currently home to a two-story retail building that was sold to the LLC The Phillipe last year for over $5 million. Now the developer, MA Architects, is seeking to build a “sliver building” on the lot, a tower that would be only 25 feet wide.
In order to do that, they have to get a variance from the BSA and prove that the current zoning allowances force the owner into economic hardship and doesn’t allow for a reasonable return on investment.
Local residents and Community Board 7 dispute that argument, saying that the owner’s claims are simply masking a desire to build as tall as possible.
“We need some sites that aren’t built out or built up,” said City Council Member Gale Brewer. She testified at the last BSA hearing in January, arguing that the applicant could not meet any of the necessary criteria.
“We need every ounce of light and air, and the zoning provides for that,” she said.
Preservation advocacy organization Landmark West has also spoken against the application.
“It sets up a scenario where one property owner could be preferred over another,” said Landmark West Executive Director Kate Wood of the possibility of granting a variance. “All property interests should be looked at equally. You don’t take away from one neighbor to give to another.”
Community Board 7 decided that the project only met one of the five hardship conditions—that the hardship was not self-imposed by the owner—but that the application did not prove that there is inherent uniqueness in the property, the owner could not make a reasonable financial return, it would not affect the essential character of the neighborhood or that the requested variance is the minimum necessary to achieve a reasonable return.
Jeff Mulligan, executive director of the BSA, said that the BSA board also had a number of questions and asked the applicant to come back with more information proving that the supposedly unique lot is what necessitates a variance.
“It’s bad enough that you look at Broadway and 100th Street and you see those glass towers up there,” said Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller. “But starting to have those glass towers sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of these blocks of beautiful brownstones is simply not acceptable.”
The BSA will be considering the application again at the end of March. Until then, residents are gearing up to dispute the owner’s claims with their own studies and expert testimony.
Kiernan thinks the support of neighbors and their ability to hire their own lawyers and consultants, not his high-profile public status, is what has given the community a fighting chance.
“There’s this incremental development that’s like, one thing, one loophole, one exception, one unusual thing at a time,” Kiernan said. “When you start adding them up, all of a sudden you look around and it’s not the same neighborhood you lived in 10 years ago.”
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