By ALISON GREGOR
Published: August 21, 2009
A WATERFRONT subdivision approved for a slip of land that’s halfway underwater in the Country Club district of the Bronx is making innovative use of nautical architecture, but has some neighbors sending distress signals.
Dan Stoica/Tobias Guggenheimer Architect
DRAWING BOARD A rendering of the planned subdivision.
Four houses, all to be in the $1.6 million to $1.8 million range, are planned for the intersection of Schley and Clarence Avenues. They were designed by Tobias S. Guggenheimer with nautical elements, like porthole windows, and chimney stacks and roof decks much like a ship’s.
“I’m kind of inventing a name: nautical modernism,” Mr. Guggenheimer said. “We wanted very light and open structures.”
The three-bedroom houses, all lightweight steel frame and glass on the first floor, but clad in oiled cedar with decks on the second, will look out onto Eastchester Bay. Besides splendid views of Long Island Sound, roof decks will have wooden trellises and painted steel railings.
The houses face a well-off neighborhood where many small aluminum-sided homes have been rebuilt to double or even triple their size in recent years. A new large condominium complex and marina are next to the subdivision.
Some neighbors are not happy about losing their view of the water.
“We love the views of Long Island Sound and the boats and tugs we see going by in the water at the end of Clarence Avenue,” Matt Griffo, a nearby homeowner, told YourNabe.com. “Our view of the water at the end of the block is a hidden treasure.”
To address those worries, Mr. Guggenheimer added floor-to-ceiling glass entries. “We really didn’t want to create a kind of monolithic wall” between the neighborhood and the water, he said.
A tiny fifth lot in the subdivision has an old boat slip and may be developed into a marina for the subdivision, Mr. Guggenheimer said. Currently, it is a cluster of reeds frequented by a flock of swans.
The developers, a group led by Dr. Roman Tabakman, call themselves Schley Avenue Development. They originally intended to build the houses all at once, but changed plans with the recession, said Mr. Guggenheimer, the spokesman for the group.
“The only way the recession is affecting them is, rather than going to the bank and getting a loan to build all four houses simultaneously, what they hope to do now is develop them sequentially,” he said.
A large portion of each lot is underwater, and initially, the developers had difficulties finding a surveyor competent at underwater work, said Joanna Stoica, a zoning consultant with DID Architects, who advised on the project.
The big challenge, she said, was to find the boundaries of the lots, one of which was almost completely underwater.
Once the underwater property lines were determined, the developers were able to count that square footage toward the floor-area-ratio requirement, Ms. Stoica said. That made the project feasible. Three houses will have 3,044 square feet, the fourth 3,634 square feet.
Even so, the biggest obstacle to subdividing was that almost the entire land portion of the subdivision had, during the time of Robert Moses, New York’s master builder, been designated for a 100-foot-wide roadway called Shore Drive. Because of this, the developers had to get city approval.
“At one time, they envisioned this beautiful shore drive that never got built,” Mr. Guggenheimer said.
Ms. Stoica said that seeking the approval to build in a mapped roadway made the project an unusual one.
“It’s like the city was saying, ‘About a third of the property is underwater and half of the property is on the mapped street, so go and build — if you can,’ ” she said. “Now that I think about it, it’s really a bit crazy, but we managed.”
The subdivision passed its last hurdle on April 30, when the Board of Standards and Appeals approved the developers’ right to build in a mapped roadway. The project had been unanimously rejected by Community Board 10 as “not in the community’s best interest,” according to a letter written on April 17 by Kenneth Kearns, Board 10’s district manager.
Asked for an explanation, Mr. Kearns said that none of the 29 members of the advisory board who voted wanted to comment.
Jeff Mulligan, the executive director of the Board of Standards and Appeals, said the only issue that either board was bound to consider was whether the developers should be allowed to build in the mapped roadway.
“Their application was referred out to the Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, and the Fire Department,” he said, “and they all approved the project. And then everything else about the project needs to comply with the underlying zoning, which it does.”
Mr. Guggenheimer said that the community board never made public any legal or community-welfare issue upon which its rejection was based.
“I think the Board of Standards and Appeals recognized this was more a reflexive Nimby position rather than a well-considered objection,” he said.
While Mr. Guggenheimer says he believes the adventurous architecture will enhance the neighborhood, he acknowledges that there are other opinions.
“Some of the people on the community board didn’t really understand the architecture and wondered why it looked different than the other houses in the neighborhood,” he said.