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City OKs 'Megamansion' Plan for Chelsea's Oldest Home, to Advocates' Dismay

By Maya Rajamani | August 2, 2016 9:43am
 The owner of 404 W. 20th St. filed an application with the LPC in March to alter the building.
404 W. 20th St.
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CHELSEA — The city has approved plans to turn the oldest house in the Chelsea Historic District into a “megamansion” — a decision preservationists say "effectively demolishes" the home and sets a “disturbing” precedent for future landmark decisions.

In June, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission sent millionaire Ajoy Kapoor’s already-revised plans to alter his house at 404 W. 20th St., between Ninth and 10th avenues, back for another revision, raising concerns about the scale of the proposed additions.

On July 26, the commission approved Kapoor’s new plans.


The existing rear facade, left, and the proposed rear facade that gained the LPC’s approval, right.

“The commission previously asked the applicants to reduce the scale of the addition in order to preserve a sense of the original building volume at the roof and top floor, and the applicants made these changes,” LPC spokeswoman Damaris Olivo said a day after the hearing.

Advocates, who had hoped to see features like the home’s historic side yard and clapboard siding preserved, expressed dismay at the decision.

Community Board 4 officials, members of the advocacy group Save Chelsea and others previously decried Kapoor's plans for what they called a "megamansion." 

“... [The LPC's commissioners] really completely ignored... Community Board [4]’s recommendations, which always called for retaining more of the substance of the house, and especially retaining the depth and height of the side yard, which is historic,” Save Chelsea member David Holowka said after the July 26 hearing.

“They’re just allowing the oldest house in Chelsea to be effectively demolished."

“I think the overall feeling is great disappointment with the LPC,” said Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations.

Kapoor’s architect William Suk, however, maintained the design would “enhance West 20th Street.”

“We remain committed to following principles of respectful restoration and sound engineering to ensure structural integrity, code compliance and modern functionality for family life in today’s Chelsea Historic District,” he said in a statement.

The home’s construction was commissioned back in 1830 after the land was leased from poet Clement Clarke Moore — known for giving the Chelsea neighborhood its name — for $40 per year, city records show.

The LPC’s approval also drew sharp criticism from preservationist groups outside of Chelsea, including the Historic Districts Council and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman called Kapoor’s plans for the home a “radical alteration.”

“The proposed construction [will] fundamentally change what this house is and has been for nearly two centuries,” he wrote in an email.

“This will be a loss not only to Chelsea, but for preservation in New York City by the disturbing precedent it will set.”

Holowka has called on the city to reform the commission and its decision-making process.

"What’s the point of a landmarks commission if they will allow the demolition of the oldest house in the historic district?" he asked. "Aren't they there to protect old buildings?"