Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Hopper-Gibbons home at no. 339 West 29th Street (which served as an Underground Railroad Station) has never been more gravely imperiled than now.

Message from Fern Luskin:

The Hopper-Gibbons home at no. 339 West 29th Street (which served as an Underground Railroad Station) has never been more gravely imperiled than now. The day after the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 4 held a meeting indicating that they were very interested in making 12 buildings on my block part of a historic district, a construction crew resumed work on this home. I just learned that the owner of no. 339 was granted a new building permit on October 9th for exactly the same plan as last year, i.e., to add a 1 1/2 story penthouse to this 4 story rowhouse. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the issuance of this building permit now prevents them from doing anything to help save the building.

However, as I have repeatedly indicated to the Department of Buildings for many months, the steel girders that are now perched on top of the building were built to an illegal height and endanger the fragile bricks below it (erected from 1846-1847). A DOB inspector, in fact, told Julie Finch and me in July that this should never have been allowed in the first place and that the DOB would issue violations and take the owners to court, but this was never done. Instead, on October 2nd, the DOB rescinded the Stop Work Order on this building that had been in place since last October and issued the new building permit the following week, thus ignoring this obvious violation of the law and my warnings of the safety issues this poses. They failed to even give either myself or Assemblyman Gottfried's office any information about the new plan exam that had been approved on September 19th or to reply to my complaint until AFTER allowing the owner to resume building. This was evidently an attempt on their part to render both myself and the elected officials powerless to intervene. Not only has the owner of no. 339 been engaged in illegal practices, endangering the contiguous buildings and innocent passersby, but now the Department of Buildings seems to have been involved in some kind of cover-up by denying the community the information we needed in order to fight this.

Our last hope is to finally prevail by publicizing the zoning violation and, of course, the historical importance of this building, through newspaper articles (Chelsea Now is doing another piece on this as we speak), a press conference and/or a public demonstration, or legal advice. Best of all would be to find a wealthy donor to buy the building! Our first step should be to call 311, complaining about the illegal height of the steel girders (heightening the building to 62 ft. 10 in. rather than the 60 feet allowed).

We need to deluge the Department of Buildings, Mayor Bloombergs' Office and the Office of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who represents the related district.

The aesthetic unity and small scale of the row houses on 29th Street, fronted by gardens and opposite what is virtually a park, make it a special place within the congested, skyscraper-filled confines of Manhattan, which should not be marred by any alterations. To keep it that way and to reclaim the right to our architectural and historical heritage, we really need to step up to the plate and do something to help ourselves, because the DOB surely isn't.

Fern Luskin