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'Eyesore' Penthouses Proposed for Famed Apthorp Blasted by Community

By Emily Frost | September 24, 2013 8:32am
 The Preservation Committee rejected the proposed penthouse addition at the landmark. 
Apthorp Penthouse Addition
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UPPER WEST SIDE — More than 100 local residents and tenants of the famed Apthorp packed a community board meeting Monday night to voice strong opposition to a two-story rooftop addition to the 105-year-old landmark building.

The addition would create four penthouse apartments atop the acclaimed 12-story apartment building, an Italian Renaissance Revival built for the Astor Family, whose residents have included Nora Ephron and Conan O'Brien, among others. 

Community Board 7's preservation committee rejected the plan, citing its architectural and historical incongruity and concerns over the way it would change views of the building both from the inner courtyard and the surrounding neighborhood. 

The proposed two-story pavilions would be built along the western part of the rooftop, closest to West End Avenue, and would feature the classical architectural elements found in the rest of the building, said Bill Higgins, a historic preservation consultant hired by the building's owners, Area Property Partners. 

"Along with this visible rooftop addition does come a substantial program of restoration," said Higgins, explaining that the renovation would remove rooftop staining and restore cornices.

The team presenting the proposal, which would utilize 16,000 square feet of the building's air rights, acknowledged that the addition would be visible from the street, but said its visual impact would be minimal. 

"Stylistically, we walked a fine line here. [The new design is] modern, but at the same time it’s referencing the classical architectural concepts," said David West, one of the project's architects.

"Once it’s done and people are familiar with it, it will be seen as an appropriate alteration."

But area residents who testified for hours before the preservation committee disagreed.

A shudder of sarcastic laughter echoed through the crowd when Bradford Wildauer, a partner at Area Property Partners, told those assembled that "the quality of life of the Apthorp is a high priority to the Apthorp sponsors."

Wildauer said his company had invested $20 million in repairs to the building, but that more were needed. 

"With this expansion and the funding it provides, we will be able to complete the remaining repairs," said Wildauer, who characterized the design as "appropriate and respectful."

Residents have objected to the heavy construction that's been part of the conversion of units to swanky new condos, as well as to the slowness of building repairs. 

Tenant Nancy Robbins testified that she was worried about the structural soundness of the building and its ability to bear rooftop weight.

"Almost every apartment in this building has leaks," she said. "Putting this great mass on this building really worries me."

Some locals became emotional in their testimony to the board, including nearby resident Marc Myers. 

"Shame on you for touching a building like this. Shame on you for making your financial difficulties a problem for the rest of the neighborhood," he said.  "The additions will impose a sizeable eyesore."

Others called the penthouses "abhorrent" and a "drastic change" that would set a "dangerous precedent" for the rest of the landmarked buildings in the district. 

"Is nothing sacred?" groused one woman who didn't want to share her name. 

But not all of the preservation committee members opposed the addition.

"It will change it, but it's not in my mind something that it isn’t offset by the value to the community and to the building of a significant level of restoration," said member Tom Vitullo-Martin.

But a majority of the seven members felt the design did not merit approval. 

"There are certain buildings that are iconic buildings that do not deserve anything done to them other than maintenance," stated Miki Fiegel.

Committe co-chair Gabrielle Palitz said the addition would block the light that streamed through the arches that sit atop the building and change the feel within the large inner courtyard.

And although the committee voted to reject the current proposal, Palitz admitted that "we would be amenable to considering another rooftop design [for the Apthorp.]"

The current design and the committee's decision will be presented at the full board meeting on Oct. 2. The developers go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Oct. 8.