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Neighbors Blocking Controversial Renovation of Fifth Ave. Consulate: Suit

By Shaye Weaver | June 20, 2017 9:51am
 A rendering of the increase in height of the Carpenter building.
A rendering of the increase in height of the Carpenter building.
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Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP

CARNEGIE HILL — The developer of the landmarked former French Consulate building on Fifth Avenue hit another snag in its plans to renovate the building — neighbors won't let crews in to do city approved safety work, according to a lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court last week.

The developer, 1143 Fifth Avenue LLC., is suing the residential co-ops on either side of the building — the 1148 Corporation and the 1140 Tenants Corporation — for not letting its workers in those buildings to do protective work, like pre-construction surveys, building monitoring and installation of scaffolding.

Both co-ops, which testified against the renovation last year, have "engaged in obstructionist and stall tactics for over eight months, and have refused to enter into a licensing agreement that would allow [1143 Fifth Avenue LLC.] access to install the protective work and commence the project," the suit says.

In two cases, neighbors have tried literally stopping the work in its tracks, according to court documents.

On one occasion, the superintendent of 1148 Fifth Ave. allegedly trespassed onto the property while crews were installing a permitted scaffold and demanded the men stop working. In another incident, the Department of Buildings got a complaint from 1140 Fifth Ave. that work was being done without a permit, but the complaint was dismissed because the permit was properly on display, the complaint states.

Furthermore, 1143 Fifth Avenue LLC.'s attempts to negotiate with the other two buildings have failed despite making numerous concessions, like agreeing to put in sound dampening equipment and paying $5,000 toward their engineering fees.

"Respondents have no intention of voluntarily entering into a licensing agreement," and "have done nothing but stall, and have engaged in a concerted effort to obstruct Petitioner's efforts to proceed with demolition, excavation and construction of the project," the suit says.

The 1143 Fifth Ave. building, between 95th and 96th streets and part of the Extended Carnegie Hill Historic District, was designed by architect J.E.R. Carpenter. Its height was restricted to 75-feet, making it shorter than other 150-foot buildings on the block.

Jean Claude Marian bought the building, which housed the French consulate for decades, in 2014 for $36.4 million. He got the city to approve a plan to replace the existing eighth floor penthouse with a 21-foot-tall one — with two levels — that will be roughly 8 feet taller than the existing one-story home. 

In addition, an elevator and an emergency staircase will be installed, along with a 15-foot bulkhead that will protrude from the roof, but will be set back 28 feet from the front of the building so it won't be visible from the street, according to representatives for the owner.

The city approved the plans after the developer revised them three separate times. But the changes still didn't convince the community to support the plan.

Neither the 1148 Corporation or the 1140 Tenants Corporation returned requests for comment.