Chuck Close sues to preserve light in Noho studio

TRD New York /
Nov.November 04, 2008 02:10 PM

By Adam Pincus


Artist Chuck Close has turned to the courts for the first time in his multi-year effort to keep the property owner next door to his building from constructing a tower that would block the natural light that he argues he and other artists in his Noho building rely on (see video).

The 68-year-old painter said the proposed six-story office building at 363 Lafayette Street at Bond Street does not comply with Department of Buildings codes and new plans should be resubmitted because the existing ones are shoddy.

“We went through considerable effort to find out whether or not the building as designed was legal, whether it was kosher, whether it would pass muster as it was designed. And we found many problems that were clearly illegal or not right,” he told The Real Deal. Close has lived and worked for 20 years at the artist cooperative building 20 Bond Street.

Close filed a lawsuit last week in Manhattan State Supreme Court to either force the DOB to revoke the permit or to, at the very least, decide whether to revoke it. He had backed an earlier proposal by Olmstead Properties for a condo building, but has not been on board since the developer filed new plans in July 2007 to build an office tower there instead. Close did not list the developer as a defendant in his suit.

Samuel Rosenblatt — president of Olmstead Properties, which has owned the site next to Close’s building since the 1940s — said his company is complying with a DOB request to bring the application up to code, but that it can do so through amendments to its existing plan rather than starting its application from scratch.

“We have been working with the Department of Buildings to resolve questions or concerns they have,” he said, adding, “It is new information that Chuck had done an audit of our filings.”

The Department of Buildings did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. The agency is closed for Election Day today.

Noho — a formerly gritty neighborhood that attracted artists in the 1970s and 1980s — has in recent years been transformed into one of the most sought-after locations in the city with luxury residential projects such as Ian Schrager’s 40 Bond Street.

Close himself bought a $5.95 million cond-op unit at 48 Bond Street on October 6. The painter is a quadriplegic who works in a wheelchair and paints with the assistance of a mechanism that raises, lowers and tilts his oversized paintings.

He fears that if the office building is built he will have to move out or rely on artificial light.

“If it is absolutely unusable I would look for a commercial space as close to where I presently am. But of course the area is so hot now, any kind of commercial space is so expensive,” he said. “I am hopeful I can stay here and it will have enough light and I can augment that with more artificial light.”

The dispute over whether new building plans must now be resubmitted or whether the existing permit can simply be amended is important because any new plans would be subject to stricter regulations than those filed in late 2007, said Close’s attorney Herbert Kramer.

In 2006, Olmstead Properties filed for a permit to build a seven-story condo on the parcel. While Close first opposed that idea, he negotiated with the developer and came to support the residential plan. He determined that it would only minimally impact light in his building.

Rosenblatt said his firm changed its proposal to an office design in late 2007 because of the worsening economy. He said an office building would be more valuable despite being about 2,500-square-feet smaller.

The city granted Olmstead permits for the six-story commercial building, according to plans provided by Close.

But Close hired architects to audit the plans and discovered enough problems with issues such as the floor-area-ratio that the Department of Buildings sent a letter to Olmstead in May 2008 saying it intended to revoke the permits within 10 days. It has not revoked the permit to date. The DOB Web site says that as of October 16, the amendments to the permit were being processed.

To further complicate the situation, in April the Landmarks Preservation Commission vastly extended the boundary of the Noho Historic District, to now include 363 Lafayette Street.

Kramer, Close’s attorney, said that if Olmstead is forced to resubmit its application it would now have to be reviewed by Landmarks. Close said a review by Landmarks would likely include design alterations that would lead to a smaller building.

“The result I want is for the court to force the building permit to be withdrawn and the resulting changes to the design of the building to make it appropriate for the neighborhood and not as big as they illegally attempted to build it. Or for them to choose to go back and use their other building permit for the residential condo,” Close said.

The artist won a small victory Friday, when Manhattan judge Jane Solomon ruled in his favor, barring the DOB from approving an amendment to The Permit Application Until The Court case was decided, according to court records.

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