Apthorp owners allege misdeeds in rooftop addition plans

Gale Brewer, Robert A.M. Stern condemn new penthouses before Landmarks
By David Jones | November 13, 2013 02:31PM

Local politicians and homeowners railed against a plan to add penthouses atop the historic Apthorp condominiums, telling the Landmarks Preservation Commission that the developers withheld key information to hasten regulatory approvals, and that the new units would depress resale values.

AREA Property Partners, the lead developers of the landmarked Upper West Side building, presented plans last night to build four rooftop apartments as part of a two-story addition.

But the proposal has been predictably contentious. Community Board 7 already shot down the plan in a non-binding vote last month, and critics spent two hours blasting the plan before Landmarks, which has the ultimate say on whether or not AREA can move ahead.

Among their complaints: the additions are out of character with the architectural integrity of the Apthorp, which boasts open pergolas and other features reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance; they will block light to the upper levels of the 12-story building; and they’ll be visible from the street — a key consideration for Landmarks approval.

“The developer’s desire to maximize their return, while understandable from the perspective of greater profit, must not become an acceptable rationale for the destruction of those features central to the Apthorp’s historic and architectural landmark status,” said City Council member Gale Brewer, the incoming Manhattan borough president, in testimony she submitted last night.

Several design experts also submitted testimony, including architect Robert A.M. Stern, who called the plan “stylistically inappropriate.”

However, Brewer and other officials raised more serious allegations that the Apthorp developers had failed to gain approvals from unit owners, or even properly notify them, despite promising New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that they would not proceed without unanimous backing from the owners.

Fourteen owners submitted a petition to Landmarks registering their opposition and asserting that the sponsor failed to advise them of the Sept. 9 amendment or hold a vote.

“The puzzle is why go through submission to LPC if at first you don’t have 100 percent approval,” state Assembly member Linda Rosenthal told The Real Deal, noting that she contacted the AG’s office after complaints from building residents. “That’s kind of suspicious to me.”

Jeffrey Reich, an attorney for the Apthorp developers, denied the allegations and said the unit owners were served by mail or in person, depending on where they lived. Out of an “abundance of caution,” they would serve the residents again, he said, declining to comment further.

A spokesperson for Schneiderman confirmed to The Real Deal that they asked the developers to serve the Apthorp residents following complaints made to the office.