A Little Off the Top? – “Illegal” Addition to be Removed

Image Courtesy of Landmark West!

Image Courtesy of Landmark West!

As reported this week in the Wall Street Journal, an Upper West Side townhouse will have to demolish a top-floor addition (see shaded portion in above image) due to a lack of approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

In 2005, the owners (at that time) of the townhouse, 12-14 W. 68th St.,  received a permit from the Department of Buildings (DOB) to construct a 6th-floor penthouse addition.  15 years earlier, however, the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District was created.  The Historic District covers this portion of West 68th St.  Being in a Historic District, of course, requires approval from the LPC for any alterations to the façade of the building.  No such approval was obtained from the LPC.

Fast forward a few years and a neighbor is unhappy with the addition – not because of preservation or architectural issues, but rather because his view has been blocked.

The property owners then applied to the LPC for a legalization of the addition.  The preservation community was steadfast in their opposition and LPC sided with them.  The property owners are now in a position of having to demolish this top story.

The issue is minor in that one property owner has been affected; the issue is major, however, in that existing floor area with a valid certificate of occupancy has been deemed illegal.

Who is to blame and what are the implications?

It seems to me that there is plenty of blame to go around.  The DOB should have known this property was in a historic district.  The architect who submitted the plans should have known this property was in a historic district (and acted accordingly).  And certainly, the proprety owners must receive some blame, as ultimately it is their property and they must know the rules under which their property falls.

And what of the implications?  It seems to me that such a victory will empower the preservation community to not only continue fighting proposed developments and enlargements, but also to seek out existing additions that they do not like and challenge them as well.

The inherent struggle between development and preservation will continue to ebb and flow.  This week, the scales tipped in the direction of preservation.

Is this a trend?  What do you think?