Land Use for 615 Eastern Parkway
In December I received an e-mail from Ken Marable, then President Elect of the Lincoln Civic Block Association, directed at all members of the LCBA about a meeting of the Land Use Committee of Community Board 8 on January 3 at the Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at 727 Classon Avenue. The meeting would address the application of the owner of 615 Eastern Parkway to make changes in an application that had already been approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee. Moshe Malamud wished to expand his “Chateauesque” style building to the west into a breezeway, create a roof deck with a railing around it, build a fence more than seven feet tall, change the doors and windows, and expand the cellar in two places so that it would have about 2,000 square feet of space – all this in what was to be a single family dwelling. I was interested to know more, so I went to the Land Use meeting. Altogether about ten people from the LCBA showed up.
At the meeting the owner was not present, but two architects doing the design work were. They were Mitch Hartzig and Eric Liftin of MESH Architecture. The meeting seemed to follow two tracks – one was about the changes in the plan and the other was about Malamud's use of the building in the past. In the previous year the building had mostly been empty, but a caretaker had lived there in the unheated basement. The building was used as a daycare center, which was unlicensed and very quickly shut down. It was also used as a dormitory for adolescent boys visiting the neighborhood. These boys were unsupervised – as a result they ran across the roofs of the houses next door shouting obscenities at people in the street. The front yard was filled with fallen apples that rotted and became food for an infestation of rats. All this was reported by Dan La Botz and Sherry Barron who live just a few doors down from the corner on New York Avenue. It emerged later in January that the front yard had been the scene of numerous fires. Michael Moses took pictures of one that took place on the morning of January 15 and reported that there had been quite a number of others. In addition, the building is large – it has three kitchens and numerous bedrooms, and if the new plan was executed there would 2,000 square feet of space in the cellar. What would that space be used for? At the Land Use meeting the architects just shrugged and said they didn't know. Given the past and the dimensions of the place, it strained credulity to believe that it was really to be a single family dwelling.
Also it seemed that the previous approval that had been gotten from the Landmarks Preservation Commission was questionable. It had been given despite the rejection of the proposal by Community Board 8. The Chair of the Land Use Committee, Ethel Tyus, told this and then stepped aside from her position as chair to oppose the proposal, telling the meeting that the previous Chair of the LPC had resigned amid charges that she had been too lenient in allowing changes to landmarked buildings.
People at the meeting found numerous issues to raise about the landmarks application, but one had the distinct impression that their objections where informed by the issues of misuse and trust that had arisen over the previous year. After a long contentious meeting, Mr. Ellis made a motion, amended by Ms. Young to approve the expansion but make it depend on several modifications that seemed to make the approval empty – the motion denied the expansion of the cellar, changed the height of the fence around the front yard, demanded the railing around the roof deck not be visible from the street, and denied the expansion in the breezeway. This motion was passed overwhelmingly.
This “approval” that amounted to rejection caught the attention of Malamud. The decision of the Land Use Committee had to go to Community Board 8 as a recommendation. The Board met on January 10 at 151 Rochester Avenue. Most of the same objections were raised there, but Malamud had found two people to speak in his favor. One was a neighbor and the other was Jeffrey Davis, the Democratic District Leader. The neighbor said Malamud was a fine person trying improve his property, and he was delayed and harassed by the process. He did not address any of the misuses of the building. Then came Davis, who said little of substance either – his main point was that he had known Malamud a long time and had played basketball with him when they were young. The Community Board ruled overwhelmingly to endorse the recommendation of the Land Use Committee.
After the meeting Malamud spoke to several people form the LCBA and Marable agreed to have him make a presentation at the LCBA meeting on January 17. Malamud did come there with his wife. However, his presentation was not a success. First, he was unaware that his front yard was filled with garbage and there had been a fire there just two days before. He pleaded that he had not had a good caretaker, but that he had hired a new one who would do better. However, given the piles of garbage and the record of fires that he knew nothing about, his claim seemed doubtful. He said that people threw garbage into this front yard and that there was little he could do about it. His responses seemed to jump back and forth between two positions – one was the he was helpless to do anything and the other was that things were getting better. Neither position seemed to win him support at the meeting.
The next step is that Community Board 8's recommendation needs to go to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is thought that with a new chair there, the decision may be more favorable. There is a meeting scheduled for February 5 at Center Street in Manhattan. It is not clear whether the previous approval can be reversed, but endorsing the recommendation of Community Board 8 would create a serious hurdle for Malamud. He would have to go back to the approved plan. If the earlier decision were reversed, it might be that the most sensible thing for him to do would be to sell the building. Otherwise he would have a derelict building on his hands sinking ever further into decay and disrepair.