Questionable renovations didn't get my approval


(re: “CB8 blows whistle on meat man’s home renovations,” March 15)

I am responding to your recent story where I was mentioned. It leaves readers with significant misimpressions about me and my firm’s work in Riverdale.

The article implies that our architecture firm erroneously omitted filing work involved in the reconstruction of a retaining wall and the removal of trees with the city planning department. It states that the homeowner’s “original architect — a local one, according to (Pat) LaFrieda — who told him he wasn’t in SNAD. ‘Obviously they weren’t competent,’ committee member Bob Bender said.”

It is unfortunate that no one from The Riverdale Press reached out to me to ask me about this allegation, which is false. 

The work in question was performed by the owner, Mr. LaFrieda, unilaterally and without informing us beforehand.

When Mr. LaFrieda came to me in January 2016 to discuss modifying his newly acquired house, he made clear that he wanted to do nothing that would prevent him from quickly starting the work. I, of course, knew that the home was within the natural area district, and advised him that any work that involved changes to the site would provide a natural area review — which cannot be self-certified.

He confirmed that he did not want to do anything that would trigger this.

When we toured the property, we noted the poor condition of some sizable retaining walls. I told him that he should not modify them at this time, as this would invoke a natural area review. He agreed to defer his work. 

No work on the retaining walls is reflected in our drawings. We designed modifications to the house that raised the attic roof and second floor above the garage, along with selected interior partition changes. No horizontal extensions were designed. No modifications were shown to the trees or retaining walls.

The proposed work remained completely within the bounds of the existing footprint, and was wholly built upon existing foundations and walls.

Several months later, I visited the construction site, and was shocked that the contractor had removed the retaining wall and trees, along with much of the garage, the exterior brick, and most of the interior partitions. There were new concrete foundations in place for a new retaining wall, and the trees were removed.

I was very, very concerned, and informed Mr. LaFrieda on the spot that his new work was not reflected in our drawings, and required city planning review. I told him that we would not be associated with this filing in any way, and advised him to retain the services of an engineer to obtain approvals for it, since the design of the retaining wall should be led by a structural engineer.

Shortly after this, I terminated our agreement with Mr. LaFrieda.

Our firm is proud of its long history of work in the natural area district. Many homes and institutions throughout Riverdale and Fieldston have been approved and completed successfully. The city planning department invited us to join an advisory board reviewing proposed modifications to the natural area regulations, a testament to their trust in our firm’s work supporting the natural area, its environmental and aesthetic goals.

When we became aware of the community board’s misimpression regarding this project, I immediately reached out to the chair, Rosemary Ginty, to show her the facts. Multiple emails and letters have, to date, gone unreturned.

It is important to us that The Riverdale Press print this letter, in its entirety, and that you will issue a correction to the article online. Our reputation in the neighborhood is very important to us. This inaccurate, one-sided piece harms that reputation.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to set the record straight.

The author is a partner with Building Studio Architects in Manhattan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A clarification was printed in the March 22 edition to further point out that Michael Goldblum’s comments in the March 15 story were based on accounts published in December 2016. No corrections were issued regarding those comments in any subsequent issues going into early 2017, so the veracity of those comments were not in question.

The representations made in the March 15 story were by those in attendance at Community Board 8’s land use committee meeting March 5, that was publicly noticed, and which Mr. Goldblum had an opportunity to attend and speak at. Corrections are reserved to correct factual errors, not to air disputes of claims made by others. 

We are happy to include Mr. Goldblum’s letter here in our Opinion page, as it is an appropriate forum to dispute claims made by others.

Michael Goldblum