Frank Lloyd Wright once joked he could just “shake the buildings out of my sleeves.” But even the famed architect who constructed Fallingwater house over a Pennsylvania waterfall might have thrown up his arms in frustration if faced with the empty lot occupying 7-15 Terrace View Ave.
The Marble Hill lot is not so much a plot of land, but more a cliff, providing a stellar view of a U-Haul storage lot and the beginnings of Spuyten Duyvil for its neighbors.
Yet a developer represented by attorney Jay Goldstein sees this as more than just an impossible lot. In fact, he thinks it’s perfect to build a seven-story residential building complete with 59 units. The problem is that the developer is alone in that belief.
The city’s standards and appeals board has essentially rejected a request from the developer to rezone the Terrace View lot from manufacturing to higher-density residential. And for Community Board 8 land use chair Charles Moerdler, that’s very good news.
“Mr. Goldstein is a courageous individual who believes that his steep land can be developed in some fashion,” Moerdler said during a land use meeting last spring.
The property’s current owners, New Jersey-based 7-15 Terrace View Avenue LLC, bought the property in 2018 for $260,000. It’s a piece of land that has changed hands a number of time, but has apparently been vacant for decades, simply because the lot is nothing more than a steep decline. But engineers are pretty resourceful, Goldstein told the committee, and there’s a lot that can be done with the 8,200-square-foot lot despite its challenges with gravity.
However, building something that would allow the developers to recoup their investment is something the lawyer says can’t be lost in the discussion.
“The desire to build a conforming building would be impossible in terms of the financial aspect,” Goldstein said, about constructing a manufacturing building there instead. “It also would create a situation where you’d have commercial trucks going into and out of a heavily residential area.”
Even without those trucks, Terrace View isn’t exactly a large street, Moerdler said, that has just one entrance and two exits. It’s part of a one-way street behind the Kennedy Campus that can either dump traffic out onto Adrian Avenue, or eventually lead them to West 225th Street.
The street also isn’t known for its higher-density residential buildings, Moerdler added, so what’s been proposed for this site is “out of character” with the rest of the neighborhood.
“The height of the building is one that destroys the character of the neighborhood,” Moerdler said during September’s land use meeting. “It is something that is in a manufacturing zone, not a commercial or residential zone. Therefore, if they want to rezone it, they really ought to go to the City Planning Commission, which doesn’t want to hear from them.”
In fact, if the developers are looking to construct something there, they should consider a commercial parking garage, Moerdler suggested. It’s an area that desperately needs more parking, and it could ultimately be big business for the property owners.
Still, Goldstein argued in a recent meeting that converting the property to residential is far more in-line with the neighborhood’s character. Its proximity to both the West 225th Street stop of the 1 train, as well as Metro-North’s Marble Hill station, could make apartments there quite popular.
“You have 8,000 square feet of lot area there that is 70-feet deep,” Goldstein said.
“And with that, you have an approximately 25-foot drop from the front of the lot to the rear of the lot — which, as you mentioned, makes a very hard way to build.”
Goldstein’s clients had hoped to earn the rezoning through hardship. Not only is the cliff-like nature of the lot difficult to build on, the lawyer said, but current city code requires new manufacturing to be set back at least 20 feet from the street, which doesn’t leave very much real estate left to build anything in.
Marble Hill also is pretty diverse when it comes to the kinds of buildings found there, Goldstein added. It’s a mixture of single-family homes with apartment buildings ranging from three stories to as high as six.
What might ultimately kill the project, however, is parking. Moerdler’s law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, represented the community board in front of standards and appeals, and based on what the board shared with the developer, they likely won’t see any real consideration about rezoning until they address what kind of parking is going to be available on a dense street where they want to add another 59 units.
“They asked, ‘How much time will you need?’” Moerdler recalled. “’Three months,’ which told me an awful lot. We haven’t heard from him since, and I’m not sure if we ever will again.”