Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is East 93rd Street Destined for Cannibalization?

Either its my imagination or the stretch of East 93rd Street just adjacent to the Carnegie Hill Historic District -- where Susan Hefti and the 93rd Street Beautification Association has been leading the charge to have the block, with its elegant and precious collection of brownstones, added to the district -- is being circled by developers and greed-mongers like a collection of seagulls that haven't eaten since 1985.

From the tale of a penthouse owner who wants permission to build a penthouse on top of a penthouse and will do anything, including lie about his building's history, to get his way, to the reluctance of city officials to name their block Marx Brothers Place, in honor of the building on the block where the Marx Brothers were raised, it seems that every time I turn around, another drama is going on on East 93rd Street.

The latest -- conveyed to me via this announcement (below) from the Beautification Association -- makes me terribly ill:

At 6:30pm on Wed., Feb. 18, Community Board 8 (CB8) will meet in the auditorium of Sloan Kettering at 401 E. 66th St. to consider a proposal to put a whole new floor on top of the remarkable landmark building at 75 East 93rd Street in historic Carnegie Hill.

The landmark, known as the Baker Mansion, sits within the boundaries of the Carnegie Hill Historic District and is considered an architectural gem in NYC's narrowing collection of historic structures.

The proposal to drastically alter this historic landmark is being put forward by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to whom the historic site was given as a gift many years ago. The Synod of Bishops claims to need the proposed alterations in order to generate a steady source of income for the church.

The proposal, which is being driven by the synod's treasurer -- actually sits in Russia and London, but not in NYC - also includes a plan to tear up the historic landmark's famous courtyard, and ancient trees, so that the synod can maximize its potential profit by building a subterranean rental space that would significantly multiply the physical mass of the structures at 75 East 93rd Street in Carnegie Hill.

Curiously, the actual parishioners of the church boldly and vociferously oppose the synod's proposal. These feisty parishioners have formed a Committee to Preserve and have already raised $4 million dollars in order to show the city that the church does not need to alter this remarkable landmark in order to meet its financial responsibilities.

Many of these parishioners spoke very passionately against the proposal at the CB8 Landmarks Committee Meeting on February 9, and plan to protest the proposal again at CB8's Full Board Meeting on Wednesday, February 18.

Neighbors, preservationists, neighborhood associations and planning organizations turned out in force for the February 9th CB8 Landmarks Committee Meeting (Historic Districts Council; Carnegie Hill Neighbors; CIVITAS; 93rd Street Beautification Association; Friends of the Upper East Side, et. al., were all in attendance). And we hope they will all attend Wednesday's Full Board Meeting of CB8, too!

The public turnout on February 9 made a huge difference: CB8's Landmarks Committee voted to recommend to the full board that the Synod's proposal be disapproved. But, as we all know, the full board of CB8 does just as it pleases.

So please don't miss the CB8 Meeting. Please let the Board know that you want the city to protect its historic districts, its historic neighborhoods and its historic landmarks!

Let us pray. Um, really hard.

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