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Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. Rescues Condominium From Combination with University

By Adam Leitman Bailey


Retained to stop the Upper East Side campus expansion plans of the Country’s largest private institution (the “University”) that involved the proposed construction of putting a hole in the side of our client’s building to create an above ground tunnel to connect its building, the Landmarked Duke House, with a donated commercial space in our client’s neighboring building – in the alley between the two structures on one of NYC’s most coveted residential blocks.

72 Hours to Prepare for Hearing

In the late afternoon on Friday, May 16, 2014, our client’s Board members observed two notices posted outside of their building, and on some of the trees lining their block notifying them of the University’s proposal to blow a hole in the side of our client’s building to allow for the connection of a covered tunnel connecting our client’s building with the University’s Duke House, and for the construction of a classroom in the basement of our client’s building. The University’s application was dated, May 1, 2014, but the client was only notified about the subject hearing for the very first time in the afternoon on May 16, 2014 that the Landmarks Committee of the local community board’s public hearing had been scheduled in the evening for Monday, May 19, 2014. This short notice meant that the client, and most importantly, the overall community affected by the University’s construction proposal, received less than 72 hours of notice of the hearing and therefore did not have adequate time to coordinate in order to voice their opinions with respect to the plan. This did not deter Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., who vigorously and diligently worked over the course of the entire weekend to develop the salient factual and legal arguments to be advanced in opposition to the University’s application, and most importantly, mobilized the surrounding community at large to oppose the application.

The Hearing Before the Condominium Board Landmark Committee

In preparation for the hearing before the Landmarks Committee of the Community Board, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. performed extensive research with regard to the history and significance of the affected buildings, as well as the block upon which these buildings are situated. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s research revealed that the client’s building, which was designed by the enigmatic C.P.H. Gilbert in French Gothic Style – frosted in Gothic tracery, finials, and lacy carvings – has for more than a century now been kept precisely as Gilbert designed it. In fact, a February 9, 2003 article from the New York Times described the client’s building’s “[g]othic moldings, high mansard, giant entryway and forest of pinnacles make the building as much a fantasy as a work of architecture.” Additionally, Adam Leitman Bsiley, P.C. obtained the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Designation Report dated, September 20, 1977 (the “Designation Report”) that designated the subject block within the Metropolitan Museum Historic District (the “District”), a reminder “of an age of wealth and elegance,…vital elements in the fabric of New York City”. As such, these buildings were designed with a style and elegance that emulates the wealth and luxury synonymous with Fifth Avenue and continue to retain the attractive residential qualities that make it the most fashionable section of the city. The University’s reason for the construction of its proposed tunnel, which contemplated the destruction of these two significant structures that were designed by significant architects, was so that its students did not have to walk through the front entrance of our client’s building, a matter of only a few additional paces. Further, the University alleged that the tunnel would be inconspicuous since it would be located approximately a dozen feet from the sidewalk, would only rise a foot or two above street level, and be constructed from steel and painted the color of the limestone buildings. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. argued that the University’s proposed construction of a tunnel and classroom was a calculated effort on its part to ruin the value of the client’s building so that the University could purchase the building at a diminished price to advance its goal of turning the Upper East Side (UES) into a college campus. In addition, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. captured an array of photographs of both of these significant structures depicting their aesthetics, as well as the surrounding block, which were exhibited to the members of the Community Board. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. argued that even if the University’s proposed construction plans were de minimis as it claimed, any change, no matter how slight would ultimately damage the historical significance of these architecturally magnificent structures forever. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. also explained that the University would need permission from the Condominium Board to put a hole through its building. The Condominium Corporate documents require permission from the Condominium Board for any structural changes, which would include putting a hole through the building. The Landmarks Committee of the Community Board agreed with all of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s arguments in opposition to the University’s application and issued a resolution unanimously rejecting the University’s application.

Appearing Before the Committee Board

Shortly thereafter, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. appeared and won in front of the full Landmarks Committee panel. At the hearing before the Landmarks Committee, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. vigorously argued that any change to the façade of the client’s building would alter its original design forever, as it would no longer be the precious original that has endured for more than a century and would likewise destroy the fabric of the entire block. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. handed out visual aids to the Landmark Committee members detailing how the University’s construction proposal would destroy the character of the buildings. Additionally, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. marshaled the residents of the client’s building, along with other residents of the block who voiced their strong objections to the Landmark Committee that the University’s plan – the actual intent of which was to create a college campus on the UES similar to the University’s prior takeover of lower Manhattan – would not only damage these significant structures, but also the surrounding neighborhood. Similar to the Community Board, the Landmarks Committee agreed with the arguments advanced by Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s in adopting the Community Board’s unanimous rejection of the University’s application with only one vote against the client.

Getting the Landmark’s Preservation Committee to Reject the University’s Application

To make matters worse, in a knowing effort to deceive the LPC and in order to deprive our client of its right to preserve and protect its architecturally magnificent building, the University submitted an application to the LPC where it falsely represented that it was the “owner” of our client’s building, and that it was authorized to seek LPC approval of work in the portions of our client’s building under common ownership and controlled by the client. Since the University’s application was unauthorized under the LPC rules, and knowingly filed to deceive the LPC regarding the University’s ownership status, coupled with the fact that the client was not afforded adequate notice, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. served LPC with a demand letter demanding that the University’s application be immediately rejected by LPC. Upon review of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s demand, LPC immediately confirmed that the University’s application had been withdrawn from consideration. Therefore, not only was Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. victorious on arguing the merits of the matter, but it was also successful on procedural grounds.

Furthermore, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. found yet another avenue to defend against the University’s encroachment attempts. Over one hundred years ago, Henry Cook, the original owner of the entire block of Fifth to Madison Avenue, extending from East 79th to East 78th Street, carved out certain limitations for the buildings within those blocks with deed restrictions that continue through today. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. researched and analyzed these antiquated deed restrictions and discovered light and air easements that would prevent the University from constructing its proposed tunnel. This discovery by Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. has armed the client with further prophylactic measures to combat the University should the University attempt to renew their construction proposal in the future.

Adam Leitman Bailey and William Geller of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. represented the Condominium in front of the Landmarks Committee, the Community Board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.

NEW YORK REAL ESTATE ATTORNEYS