Says Penthouse-Crazy Mark Martinez: If I Go Down, East 93rd Street Goes With Me!

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The battle underway between an Upper East Side penthouse owner who wants to build a penthouse on top of a penthouse on top of an East 93rd Street building, and the growing chorus of activists and local elected officials in favor of including the block as part of the Carnegie Hill Historic District — and against the penthouse owner’s construction plans — is heating up. And getting very dirty.

Today, the New York City Board of Standards of Appeals will consider whether the penthouse owner, Mark Martinez, despite a record of prevarication, should be given a zoning allowance that would, activists say, jeopardize the architectural integrity of the block and perhaps the structural integrity of the building itself.

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Meanwhile, Martinez is employing diversionary tactics worthy of General Lee in the days before his surrender at Appomattox. Two confidential sources tell me that Martinez had his attorney call Kate Daly, executive director of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which may soon be taking the block’s request for inclusion in the Historic District under consideration, in order to suggest that the LPC will, in fact, never do so, and therefore, in his view, the BSA should rule in his favor. The BSA and LPC are autonomous organizations exerting no legal influence over the other.

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So the question is this: What influence is Martinez, through his legal counsel, attempting to exert over the LPC or the BSA?

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What’s great is how people on the block are responding. Below are two letters made available to me by the 93rd Street Beautification Association. I have redacted specific names and addresses out of respect for the identities of those who have written them.

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Re: Objection to Application for Special Permit – Calendar Number
162-08-BZ, Property ID – 150 East 93rd Street, Block 1521, Lot 51, Manhattan.

Dear Madame Chair,

My family & I own a lovely historic townhouse at XXX East 93rd Street just steps away from the Carnegie Hill Historic District. We feel very fortunate to have bought one of the houses that make up the collection of brownstones that are older than any of the brownstones already in the CHHD.

And, as you may know, there is a pending and ongoing effort, supported by many of the city’s most highly respected architectural historians, preservationists and elected officials, to extend the CHHD so as to include our important block within its protective boundaries. The neighborhood supports this ongoing preservation effort.

In the meantime, it has come to my attention that the applicant in the above captioned case has submitted a preliminary shadow assessment, produced by Thomas A. Francis of Equity Environmental Engineering LLC in Flanders NJ, in an attempt to avoid having to do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In light of the myriad environmental issues raised by this case, we feel quite strongly that an EIS is required.

Mr. Francis explains in his preliminary shadow assessment that he has not been to the site, and is projecting an opinion based upon his own broad theoretical calculations. Because the assessment was created in a vacuum, without the benefit of the relevant factors particular to East 93rd Street, it is wholly inadequate and must be disregarded in its entirety. Certainly, the preliminary shadow assessment submitted by the applicant can not be the basis for issuing a negative declaration in this case:

1.) The subject assessment assumes that 150E93 is surrounded by buildings of equal height which would theoretically intervene in shadows cast. But because Mr. Francis was not given all the facts, his assumption here is incorrect as 150E93 abuts a row of tiny and ancient houses. The assessment, therefore, fails to provide the basis upon which a negative declaration can be issued.

2.) The assessment fails to contemplate the undeniable shadow that would be cast upon our gardens here on East 93rd Street if the proposed addition of a 13th floor were approved. For the fact is, the long row of 4-story 19th century brownstones which 150E93 abuts, has an equally long row of contiguous gardens that run the course of the rear yards.

These gardens lose sunlight at a particular time of day depending upon the season. Since even the inadequate preliminary shadow assessment submitted by the applicant admits that the proposed addition would cast at least an additional 43 feet of shadow, a significant difference to the health of our verdant gardens and their resident flora and fauna, there is no question that the proposed addition and its attendant added shadow would impact the environment. The assessment, therefore, fails to provide the basis upon which a negative declaration can be issued.

We respectfully ask that BSA deny the applicant’s request for a special permit to construct an additional story atop the roof of 150 East 93rd Street.

Respectfully submitted,
xxx and xxxx

cc: Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer
NY State Assembly Members: Micah Kellner & Jonathan Bing
NYC Council Members: Dan Garodnick; Jessica Lappin & Tony Avella
NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano
93rd Street Beautification Association
Carnegie Hill Neighbors
Brewery Hill Block Association
CIVITAS

Re: Objection to Application for Special Permit – Calendar Number
162-08-BZ, Property ID – 150 East 93rd Street, Block 1521, Lot 51, Manhattan.

Dear Madame Chair,

We are the proud owners of XXX East 93rd Street, an historic brownstone on one of Manhattan’s most cherished and storied blocks. We strongly object to the application in the above cited case. Creating a 13th floor on top of the extant “penthouse”, which created a 12th floor, would have a negative impact on the character of our neighborhood, and we respectfully ask BSA to deny the applicant’s request for a special permit.

The campaign to extend the Carnegie Hill Historic District just one short block east to include the very important collection of 19th century houses on our block continues on with the support of the neighborhood; many of the city’s most highly respected architectural historians; NYC’s highly respected preservation community and many of our elected NY State and NYC officials.

Quite recently, a powerful coalition of elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano; NY State Assembly Member Jonathan Bing; NY State Assembly Member Micah Kellner; NYC Council Member Dan Garodnick and NYC Council Member Jessica Lappin wrote letters to Mr. Robert Tierney, Chairman of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, asking him to take up the matter of our block’s request and finally calendar our RFE for a Public Hearing. So, while the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet calendared our RFE, we are confident that the Commission will do so and grant our Request.

But all of this is really beside the point. For the only question before BSA is: “Would the proposed additional floor at 150E93 have a negative impact on the character of the neighborhood?” And the answer to that narrow question is a resounding, “yes”.

For while the boundaries of Historic District designation provide another layer of legal protection against the ravages of overdevelopment, and projects contrary to our neighborhood’s character, LPC’s failure to act at this time in no way diminishes the facts of our block’s unique and well documented history.

LPC designation does not history make; it is the facts that make the history. And the facts about our block are both well established and historically significant. The experts from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture and Historic Preservation who guided, researched and wrote the surveys of our unique collection of 19th century houses for the RFE were fascinated by the historic facts they discovered about our block including: the row of houses that are older than any of the brownstones already in the CHHD (a row they consider the Rosetta stone to any credible development history of Carnegie Hill); a most unique stepped-down roofscape on both sides of the block; the beloved and world-famous Marx Brothers childhood home; two houses built and owned by the famous NYC Loew Brothers and a house that was owned by the well known New Yorker, William Orth.

LPC designation, or the lack thereof, can not change these facts which help to inform and define our neighborhood’s unique and cherished character. The proposal to build an addition on top of the addition that sits on top of 150E93 would have a negative impact on the unique character of our block.

One of the most obvious impacts of this proposal would be that we would clearly see this addition from the street. While from certain angles, applicant’s extant “penthouse” is currently blocked from view by the “penthouse” that sits to its east, simple geometry dictates that if applicant were allowed to add yet another floor to his extant “penthouse”, that 13th story would clearly protrude up above even the easterly penthouse and would easily be seen throughout the neighborhood, most especially on historic East 93rd Street.

Please deny applicant’s request for a special permit to construct an additional floor on top of the structure that sits on top of the roof of 150 East 93rd Street.

Respectfully submitted,
XXX & XXX

Cc: Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer
NY State Assembly Members: Micah Kellner & Jonathan Bing
NYC Council Members: Dan Garodnick; Jessica Lappin & Tony Avella
NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano
93rd Street Beautification Association
Carnegie Hill Neighbors
Brewery Hill Block Association
CIVITAS

Stay tuned.

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