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Board Supports UES School's Plan to Demolish Townhouses for Expansion

By Shaye Weaver | November 19, 2015 4:19pm
 The expansion would make room for a new gym, greenhouse and classroom space, school official say.
Allen-Stevenson School Plans An Expansion
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Community Board 8 voted to support a private school's plan to demolish a pair of 150-year-old townhouses to make way for its expansion on Wednesday.

Residents largely supported the Allen-Stevenson School's plan to demolish the historic structures adjacent to its East 78th Street campus to build slightly taller ones and make room for more classrooms, science labs, a gym and a greenhouse.

But those who opposed it, raised concerns regarding the light that would emanate from a 380-square-foot glass greenhouse slated to be installed on the roof of the new buildings — which would raise their height by another 18 feet.

While CB8 ultimately voted to approve the plan, it decided to send a letter to the city's Planning Commission, asking the agency to work with the school to set a limit to the hours the lights are on and look for ways to mitigate light pollution.

"I do know that plants need light for photosynthesis and that artificial lights will have some role," said Park Avenue resident Gerald Walpin. "Imagine a lit up glass cube in an otherwise nocturnal neighborhood, without regard to architectural merit and what lighting is involved. The type of glass structure in this application ... is out of context and inappropriate in a historic district."

The Allen-Stevenson School, an all-boys private school with a campus at 130-134 E. 78th St., is proposing to demolish its two adjacent townhouses at 126 and 128 E. 78th St. Their facades and foundations will remain, but their floors will be rebuilt align with school's main building.

The height of the new buildings would also be raised to 66 feet — or 6 feet taller than what the current zoning allows.

The school has submitted an application to the Board of Standards and Appeals for a variance to allow for the height increase, according to Shelly Friedman, the school's land-use attorney.

The greenhouse is not subject to height restrictions mandated by the area's zoning, Friedman said.

"A residential block is not just residential during the day, but it's residential in the late afternoon, the early evening and 24 hours," said neighbor Richard Cotton. "To have an enormous amount of light pouring through the top would be completely inappropriate to the residential nature of the block."

The greenhouse must get certified from the chair of the City Planning Commission before it can be built, according to Friedman. But no light mitigation has been discussed yet, he added.

"I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the greenhouse," Friedman said, "It is, by zoning, required to have a certain amount of transparency, and must be set far back so it can't be viewed from the public way. It is inset between two taller buildings on both sides. It meets the zoning requirements. If people feel the illumination is objectionable, we'd be happy to look at your recommendations."

Board member Larry Parnes said that everything has been addressed by the committee and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which approved the school's overall expansion in January this year.

"These are minimal actions," he said about the school's expansion and greenhouse. "I'm confident that if the community has other concerns the school will continue to address them and work with the community even after the building is up."