Manhattan Community Boards

Carnegie Hill: Is Citi Builder Trying to Wear Us Down?

Like a pair of punch-drunk fighters circling each other in a 10th-round grudge match, representatives of Citibank-which has sought, for nearly three years, to realize its plan for the construction of a residential tower above the bank’s Carnegie Hill branch-faced off again with residents opposing the scheme at the Nov. 14 meeting of Board 8.

The plan, which initially called for the construction of a 15-story building on the corner of 91st Street and Madison Avenue to house a residential complex and two penthouses above the existing ground-floor Citibank branch, has drawn the ire of preservation-minded residents ever since it was unveiled in January 1999.

Saying the proposed building would be out of character with the historic Carnegie Hill district, residents enlisted the support of local neighborhood associations like Carnegie Hill Neighbors and the Historic Districts Council and, fueled with star-power from Carnegie Hill resident Woody Allen, loudly opposed the plan.

Their concerns did not go unheard: Board 8 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has final say on the proposal, twice rejected the plan and urged the site’s developer, Tamarkin Company, which bought the air rights in 1999, to reduce the 209-foot height of the building and rethink its design to bring it more in line with the existing prewar styles on the block.

But despite fierce neighborhood opposition and the rejection of the developer’s second proposal, which would have reduced the height of the building to 10 stories, Citibank has proved a dogged adversary, and on Nov. 14 developers were back before the board to outline the latest changes to their plan, hoping the third time would prove the charm. The new proposal reduces the building’s height to nine stories and, with a bit of nip and tuck on the remaining floors, reduces the overall height to 129 feet, including the water tower and mechanical bulkhead on the roof. Balconies and other exterior details were also removed from the original design in the hopes of making the building less obtrusive.

“I think you’ll find our changes make a remarkable difference,” said project architect Paul Byard of Platt Byard Dovell. “The building is now a different presence on the street.”

Residents at the meeting could not have been more unimpressed. “It is unconscionable that the developers have us here for a third time for a plan which still does not adhere to the guidelines set by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on June 13, 2000,” said Carnegie Hill resident Sally Vallimarescu. “The way in which the developer and his team have approached this issue has been an insult to the community … we’ve been debating this issue now for over two years.”

“We are getting weary of this process. The developer is trying to peel away our resolve,” said Upper East Side resident Norma Rodriguez. “The designer’s vision is out of line with reality.”

Attorney Bob Davis, who represents Tamarkin Company, said the revised design has received the support of the Municipal Arts Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, as well as local neighborhood associations like Civitas and the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. But when one neighbor pointedly observed that Charles Platt, the head of Platt Byard Dovell, sits on the board of the Municipal Arts Society, Mr. Davis became irate. “That’s an insult to a distinguished architect. Mr. Platt did not attend any of the meetings leading up to [the Municipal Art Society’s] decision to support the plan. This is supposed to be a rational discussion between rational people,” he said.

Whatever the design, the most vigorous opposition to the building-which would tower over the existing three- to five-story Queen Anne townhouses sitting on the block at an average height of 50 feet-has always been to its size.

“The historic district sets a particularly high bar for what can be built in this neighborhood …. This [plan] is better, but it’s still too tall,” said City Council member Eva Moskowitz.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, even the project’s architects seemed to acknowledge that design issues were no longer their paramount concern. “We’re not much concerned with style. We went down to a very simple rectangle … it’s a basic New York apartment,” said Mr. Byer.

But the developer’s proposal of a 15-foot reduction in height proved not to be enough. “This latest change is marginal. It’s still a massive box on a tiny footprint,” said Minna Elias, an aide to U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney. The majority of the board agreed, voting to uphold its landmarks committee’s Nov. 13 resolution to reject the amended proposal.

The final decision on the plan will be made at the Dec. 4 Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting.

-Petra Bartosiewicz

Choking Off Club Ivy

The corner of West 75th Street and Broadway has been a nighttime hot spot ever since Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Stevie Winwood showed up for Duran Duran drummer Steve Ferrone’s birthday extravaganza at what was once the China Club. Twelve years later, after neighbors’ noise and crowd-control complaints forced the China Club to move to midtown, another troubled venue-Club Ivy-moved into the same spot.

Since Club Ivy’s opening in 1998, community residents and police concerned about rowdy 4 a.m. closings repeatedly threatened to shut the club down. On Nov. 7, Board 7 members made good on their threats to force the club’s demise when they voted unanimously at their full board meeting not to support the renewal of Club Ivy’s liquor license. The lengthy board resolution also called on the Department of Consumer Affairs to begin a review of the club’s cabaret license, which expires in September 2002.

Although Club Ivy’s liquor license expired on Oct. 31, club lawyers sought and won an injunction against the State Liquor Authority in a Westchester County court that allowed the club to keep its bar open pending further review. Neighbors at the meeting said that they’re outraged by the legal maneuvers and tired of listening to the club’s liquored-up patrons brawling on the streets. Rick Ross, who lives down the street, says the ruckus keeps his two young daughters up all night. “They could sleep through a train wreck, but they cannot sleep through the closing hours of Club Ivy,” Mr. Ross said.

According to the 20th Precinct’s director of community policing, Sgt. James Kobel, in the past two months, seven police officers were injured during arrests involving the club. As a result, the NYPD is seeking a nuisance-abatement action to prohibit the club from operating until the liquor authority reviews Club Ivy’s case.

“The police have become a de facto security force for a social club that has become a public nuisance,” Sgt. Kobel said.

Board chair Larry Horowitz made a special appeal to New York State Assembly member Scott Stringer to intercede with the liquor authority. Mr. Stringer, who spoke during the meeting’s public session, replied that he’d be “happy to help.” New York State Senator Eric Schneiderman also sent a letter to the S.L.A. accusing the club of wreaking “havoc” on the neighborhood.

“I always think we should give businesses the benefit of the doubt, but I think [Club Ivy] violated that benefit and the special covenant with the community that invited them in,” said Mr. Stringer.

– Candace Rondeaux