Volume 75, Number 42 | March 8 -14 2006

Not-in-your-backyard — NIYBY? — debate on 12th St.

By Albert Amateau

Paul and Donna Ulman, who want to enlarge a rear-yard extension to their row house at 159 W. 12th St. in the Greenwich Village Historic District, received partial approval on Tuesday from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Ulmans propose to enlarge their current one-story rear-yard addition that runs half the width of the building and extends 17 feet into the yard. The proposal is for an extension that would rise to the entire three-story height of the original building, include a basement extension, run the entire width of the building and extend 19 feet 8 inches into the yard.

Although the Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee voted unanimously on Feb. 27 to disapprove the plan, the Landmarks Preservation Commission on March 7 approved everything in the plan except the third floor.

But the Ulmans will face a challenge by Sheldon Lobel, attorney for Michael Stewart, a neighbor who opposes the project. Lobel disagrees with the Ulmans’ land-use attorney, Shelley Friedman, who said at the Feb. 27 committee meeting that the project was as of right as far as zoning was concerned.

The Ulmans are invoking the city Quality Housing Program that allows more square-foot coverage than permitted by current zoning if a residential project includes high-quality amenities. But Lobel claims the Quality Housing Program is intended for multiple-dwelling apartment houses and is misapplied in the case of a rear-yard extension of a one-family house. The L.P.C. said on Tuesday that it was ruling only on whether the project was appropriate for the historic district, and Lobel indicated that he would refer the zoning issue to the Department of Buildings and the City Planning Commission.

Stewart, owner of the adjacent 157 W. 12th St., which shares the yard, told the Landmarks Committee that the proposed extension would block light and air from his kitchen and he feared the extension would kill trees that provide leafy shade to the entire rear yard.

But City and Country Day School, whose entrance is on W. 13th St. and also shares the rear yard, went on record as supporting the project. Jennifer Sage read a letter from the school at the L.P.C. hearing that supported the proposed extension. The National Psychological Association at 150 W. 13 St., which has an adjacent rear yard, also supported the Ulmans’ plan.

While 11 neighbors submitted letters in favor of the project, there were 29 letters in opposition to the plan from other W. 12th St. residents

Stewart and other neighbors fear that construction of the extension would imperil one of two large 40-year-old elm trees in the yard. The trunk of the nearest elm is within 14 feet of the proposed extension, 5 feet closer than present, and the extension of the basement would further imperil the tree by cutting into its root system, they said.

Opponents said they feared the extension would set a precedent that would encourage other property owners to add rear-yard extensions and seriously curtail open space in the historic district.

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