Construction and Concerns Continue at Adjacent Properties | chelseanow.com

Construction and Concerns Continue at Adjacent Properties

The properties at 345 and 347 W. 19th St. are on the agenda of CB4’s Feb. 20 Chelsea Land Use committee meeting. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | In an uncanny echo of events that occurred years ago in the West Village, a photographer is at odds with the neighborhood regarding the renovation of a dual-building historic residence, this time in Chelsea.

Fashion, beauty, and celebrity photographer Kenneth Willardt purchased two adjacent four-story buildings at 345 and 347 W. 19th St. (built in 1910 and 1920, respectively) for $4.6 million in 2013, according to online real estate sources. Located between Eighth and Ninth Aves., the structures sit on a 44-foot x 64-foot lot and total approx. 6,288 combined square feet.

Controversy and complications surrounding work on Willardt’s property parallel those experienced by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, who formerly owned 755 and 757 Greenwich St. The work on Leibovitz’s buildings was fraught with problems that impacted neighbors. A construction accident in 2002 resulted in evacuation of Leibovitz’s next-door residents, and here, too, Willardt’s neighbors in 349 W. 19th St. have had to vacate, after the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) declared the building unsafe for occupancy due to destabilization after excavation without a permit.

Willardt, whose clients include Condé Nast publications and Maybelline cosmetics, works in a glamorous industry known for its jet-setting lifestyle that may be out of sync with at least some of the residents on his block. He said that his intention, as confirmed by several nearby residents, is to build a 20-foot rooftop vertical expansion with a swimming pool, fire pit, birthing room, and space for aerial yoga

The buildings may be outside the Chelsea Historic District, but the community believes there should be some sensitivity to conservation, especially given the steady erosion of the area’s aesthetic assets, and the fact that these properties are pre-war residences with historic details and character.

According to several neighbors, last Christmas Willardt had a party and lit fireplaces built into the walls shared with 343 W. 19th St. Smoke migrated into that building and the owners alerted Willardt, at which time he extinguished the fires. Given what happened with 349 W. 19th St., the owners may be concerned about possible damage to their residence. Chelsea Now could not reach Willardt for comment.

Bill Borock, President of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA) and Reverend Stephen Harding were among those who expressed concerns at Feb. 7’s full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4) — including possible unpermitted or illegal work in general and proper protection for Saint Peter’s Chelsea, located behind Willardt’s properties, at 346 W. 20th St.

The 19th century church, for which Harding serves as interim pastor, is known for its 100-foot-tall clock and bell tower and its close association with the Clement Clarke Moore poem commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” It is currently undergoing its own restoration and was recently profiled in this publication as one of two Chelsea recipients of money from the New York Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites grant program.

On Oct. 10, 2017, the office of Councilmember Corey Johnson (who has since become City Council Speaker) held an on-site meeting with representatives from the DOB, the NYC Department of Transportation, and residents to review concerns about the properties, the steps taken and action to address them.

The entrance to work, via the basement of 345 W. 19th St. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

Matt Green, who serves as Johnson’s Deputy Chief of Staff, District Director, told Chelsea Now that the DOB has assigned both properties to their high level “Executive Inspections Unit” that works closely with city’s fire, police, preservation, and investigation departments and will clear all future filings. They are reviewing plans and documents submitted by the engineer to ensure that work conforms to plan.

“Our office will continue to work closely with neighbors and all relevant City agencies to ensure that any work at these properties complies with building code,” Green said in an email to this publication.

J. Lee Compton, who co-chairs the Chelsea Land Use (CLU) committee of CB4, announced at the Feb. 7 full board meeting that 345 and 347 W. 19th St. would be on the agenda of the next CLU meeting (Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m., in the Community Room of 53 W. 30th St.). Owner Kenneth Willardt has been invited and representatives of St. Peter’s, the 300 West 18th/19th Street Block Association, and the CCBA are expected to attend. The meeting is open to the public. For more info, visit nyc.gov/html/mancb4.