Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Those 93rd Street Developers Finally Get What They Deserve

Well, maybe not everything they deserve, but something good -- a stop work order.

Yes, that right: the people at Greystone Property Development, who despite their commitment to a very green structure at 180 E. 93rd Street turn a blind, aggressively antagonistic and blithe eye toward preservation, have had to stop digging and working and whatever else they're doing. I got lots of emails on this today from Susan Hefti. Among them:

My three favorite words in the English language (next to "God, you're beautiful!)have become STOP WORK ORDER.

On Wednesday, July 9, 2008, 180 East 93rd Street was shut down again: the entire job, the entire site. The Borough Commissioner's order cites the developer for violating Section 28-1051...


A STOP WORK ORDER [has been] slapped across the face of the plywood construction wall, right next to Greystone Development's sign advertising their multimillion dollar co-op units which they call 180e93rd (can you spell pretentious?).


I don't know how dramatic this is, but you CAN see that Greystone is digging WAY below the foundation of the historic home on the left.

Greystone wants to drill below even as we are all on a rock ledge here on this - the steepest slope in Carnegie Hill, and one can NOT blast. Without drilling, they can't get deep enough to install their Buck Rogers air conditioner (you know, the one they claim will singlehandedly cool down the planet...when in actuality it will gobble up way more kilowatts then ever used previously on Marx Brothers Place because if Greystone's project succeeds it will exponentially increase the residential density on the block and, in turn, increase the demand for electricity use - thereby negating any environmental benefit they purport to provide from their land-rape experiment).


Big Foot Leaves Deep Impression on Marx Brothers Place

There is not a shoe size big enough to measure the enormity of the carbon footprint Greystone Development is leaving on the fragile urban ecosystem of historic Marx Brothers Place in Carnegie Hill.

(See these links for more on the devastating environmental effects.)

But, at least, Greystone Development's spin doctors are certain to pay off their Hamptons mortgages with the creative canards they pump out like cookies on a baking sheet, all designed to whitewash their reportedly $30 million condo proposal green. After all, these days paying off a mortgage is nothing to sneeze at.

And certainly no one can say these demolition darlings haven't earned their keep. Just like the construction site itself, now known as 180 East 93rd Street (recall Mark Giller's horrifying pics of Greystone's trucks smashing into a street sign and tearing off a tree limb in the middle of the night on our quiet little residential block), these public relations gurus must be hooked up to an intravenous supply of Red Bull as they work around the clock.

Neighbors here were stunned that while on that 24-7 clock of theirs, Greystone Development's PR people managed to spin the irreparable harm they've done and continue to do to our fragile urban ecosystem (by demolishing 2,640 square feet of species habitats and green space, and now digging well below the depth of the original 19th century house foundations into virgin earth - all without ever having done an environmental impact statement) into a good thing for the environment (if it were, wouldn't Greystone have submitted an environmental impact statement and really strutted its green-stuff?).

In the recent NY Times story about the developer's endeavor to carve out a significant portion of the earth in order to install a subterranean air conditioning system, Greystone Development brags that all this digging and backfilling of virgin earth with concrete and metal is really good for the environment.

The developer argues that demolishing century-old gardens, trees and species habitats is great & green because burrowing into the virgin earth will eventually reduce the use of killowatts gobbled up by Greystone's proposed condo complex, and spare the neighborhood from having to see an air conditioning unit set back on the roof of the same proposed condo complex.

Oh yes, the neighborhood would much prefer to see a huge pit (or ultimately a huge condo complex) where once there were 3 ornate 19th century homes housing fewer than 4 people, along with the adjoining contiguous century-old gardens and trees (2,640 square feet of green space which did more to help sustain the city's fragile ecosystem than Greystone Development's air conditioning unit ever will). Not !

Too bad no one at the Times asked the developer the obvious question: wouldn't it have been best for the environment, the neighborhood and the city to simply recycle the historic homes, and leave the historic trees & green space intact?

And what about the other obvious question: how much will electricity use be increased anyway by the simple fact that the developer's proposed condo complex, if approved, will increase the residential density on this tiny block exponentialy, adding far more demand for electricity and thereby negating any possible environmental benefit from Greystone's massive air conditioning unit?

And what about the carbon footprint left behind from all of the heavy machinery and the contractors' SUVs and Pick-up trucks driving in and out from New Jersey as they do every day?

The 19th century Gornsey houses, also known as the sister houses, were razed to rubble without a thought to the ecological impact on the Carnegie Hill neighborhood or the city.

And as if that senseless demolition weren't enough of a carbon footprint, the developer is now trying to shoehorn a cooling system deep below ground (where he intends to drill even much deeper than he's already dug) without any ecological study of the impact and without any archaeological survey of the site.

Significant historic remnants have been found around most historic sites and structures all throughout NYC. Those recovered historic remains (e.g., ceramic shards, bones, etc.) are now the subject of numerous studies at college and university archaeology departments (including those in the CUNY system where many of these remnants have been painstakingly indexed and catalogued) as they hold valuable truths to our collective past, truths that are not recorded in any ledger.

These historic remains provide the intimate, often unspoken, details of how people lived, socialized, prioritized, survived and died. Any remnants of the Native Americans who lived and hunted on these lands long before Gornsey ever drew his first sketch for the sister houses are being carted off by Greystone Development, snuffing out the voices of these indigenous peoples, once again.

Here on Marx Brothers Place, the City of New York has given free rein to Greystone Development, not even requiring that the developer account for what is removed from these ancient properties, the site of some of the first houses ever built in Carnegie Hill.

It has been said that civilizations that are not sustainable tend to collapse. And a city that is willing to give away the keys to the bulldozer without blinking an eye, and without a thought to the effect on our collective history and our fragile urban ecosystem, is clearly not promoting any kind of development that is sustainable.

So while the developer's spin doctors are laughing all the way to the bank, the carbon footprint here on Marx Brothers Place gets wider and wider, and deeper and deeper. Soon, only Big Foot himself will be able to fit his outsize paw into the glass slipper that is the carbon footprint left behind by Greystone Development's wrongheaded project on East 93rd Street.

Sadly, along with the treasures it has robbed from our fragile urban ecosystem, Greystone Development continues to heave whole chapters of our city's incomparable history, choosing instead to blindly plunder ahead, gouging the earth, demolishing historic gardens and trees, and tossing away tons of previously undisturbed earth without so much as a thought to what historic narratives might have been told if they simply looked before they leaped.

For more information contact: Susan Kathryn Hefti, Co-Chair, 93rd Street Beautification Association,, or visit our blog at

As you can see from this photo, taken by our architectural historian, the house that Greystone demolished in order to make room for its big underground air conditioner was in fine shape as were the details of its extraordinary carved cornice, ornate lintels and window casings.

E.D. Gornsey built this house at 182, along with the previously demolished sister houses at 180 & 178. They had beautiful stepped-down roofs which reflect the unique steep topography of our hill. These three 19th century houses along with their historic gardens, trees and bird flyways have been thrown away to make room for
Greystone's 30 million dollar condo-complex.

The house pictured here was bought by the well known New Yorker William Orth in 1882. What a loss. What a shame.

Just who IS minding the store?

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