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'Lego Block' Rooftop Addition at St. Agnes School Rejected by CB7

By Emily Frost | May 15, 2015 4:45pm | Updated on May 20, 2015 12:11pm
 The board disapproved the plan to add 29 feet to the top of the historic school building.
Board Says Penthouse at St. Agnes' School is Too Large
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A plan to build a penthouse atop a landmarked school building was rejected Thursday by a Community Board 7 committee, which described the addition as a massive "Lego block." 

The rooftop plan would add almost 30 feet in height to the St. Agnes Boys High School building at 555 West End Ave., according to the building's new owner.

The school was purchased for $50 million by developer and architect Cary Tamarkin this past October for conversion into roughly 15 apartments, he said. 

The landmarked 107-year-old building was among dozens of schools closed by the Catholic Archdiocese in recent years and has been vacant since the end of the 2012-'13 school year. 

Board members, residents and preservationist groups lauded the efforts the firm took to keep the look and feel of the seven-story brick and limestone building as close to the original as possible, but they regarded the penthouse addition with "disdain," as one member put it.

The addition includes a 12-foot penthouse, plus a 17-foot box holding mechanical equipment and the building's elevator, the plans showed. 

The architects were so "sensitive" with their designs — by restoring broken rooftop cornices and installing replicas of the original windows, for example — that "the roof looks so bad" in contrast, said board member Louisa Craddock. 

"All of a sudden you hit this Lego block on the top and it’s big," she said. 

The sentiment was nearly universal among residents and board members who reviewed the design Thursday night. 

"It’s just too darn big. You’re trying to do too much up there," board member Mark Diller added. 

While a compromise of moving the mechanical equipment box off the top of the penthouse would have assuaged some board members' concerns, Tamarkin's reps said it wouldn't be possible because the equipment is too noisy to sit next to the penthouse and neighboring residential buildings. 

Residents argued the addition was another sign of irrevocable changes harming the neighborhood.

"Part of the reason I moved into the 86th Street area was because of all the landmarks," said resident Naomi Safer, who added that the addition made the views akin to those of Midtown. "[Landmark alterations are] changing the whole neighborhood into not being what we moved here for." 

Others argued that historic buildings and the views of longtime neighbors shouldn't be altered simply for the benefit of new, wealthy residents.

"I don’t think that’s the integrity of the neighborhood — a penthouse. That’s not the Upper West Side and that’s not why any of us are here," argued Charlene Floyd, a neighboring resident. 

While greenlighting the rest of the building's redesign, CB7's preservation committee ultimately voted to disapprove of the design of the penthouse and the mechanical equipment. 

"We’re not done by any means thinking of the right and respectful way to go," Tamarkin said.

However, the application is currently set to appear before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on May 19, and Tamarkin said there was not enough time to revise the plans before appearing.

The LPC will make the final decision on the plan.

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