Say no to Billionaire Pierre Bastid and his Iceberg Home at 48-50 West 69 Street, New York
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This petition is in opposition to the current building of the “Iceberg Home” at 48-50 West 69th Street. Two historic row houses built by Gilbert A. Schellenger during the latter part of the 19th century have been mercilessly demolished with the exception of the facades which stand as fragile as a lone leaf on a barren tree. As if this weren’t egregious enough the billionaire couple Pierre Bastid and Malou Beauvoir who purchased the two brownstones in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and who do not reside at either home, but who live in France are digging 37 feet, 11 inches deep into the earth. Deep down through Manhattan’s stubborn schist. Why? Because this couple wants to combine the two brownstones into one and build a swimming pool deep into the caverns of the earth. (It’s called an “Iceberg Home” because most of what can be seen above ground is only a fraction of what is the top of a much larger whole below).
We, the neighbors comprising of nonagenarians to newborn infants and every age in between respectfully request from the Department of Buildings, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Manhattan Borough President, the New York City Planning Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection, various council members, state senators, and Mayor Bill DeBlasio that approval of this project be rescinded and a full DOB stop work order be put in place until it is re-examined and denied in whole or in part. Further, we request the owners Mr. Bastid and Ms. Beauviar dba “Ezruli, LLC” voluntarily cease all operation on the site and agree to adhere to what is in the best interest of the block, its residents, and of the Upper West Side as a whole.
Iceberg Homes such as the one in question were banned in London in 2013 and so how is it that savvy New Yorkers and even savvier New York City agencies allowed this one to casually slip through even though Community Board 7 suggested to the Department of Buildings they deny approval?
The people who live on both West 69th Street and West 68th Street awaken each morning to the jolting sounds and vibrations of jackhammers digging deeper into the center of the earth like thunderous meteor showers hitting the land. However, we do not envision a mega mansion or a swimming pool. Instead, we hear the steady digging of graves. Figuratively and literally, we see our graveyards because of the various toxic fumes entering our homes and our bodies; as well as the death of our block, our street, and our neighborhood as we know it.
Neither Pierre Bastid or Malou Beauvoir are exposing themselves to these toxic fumes they have so carelessly unleashed upon us. Their gift to us, aside from the piercing noise, has been asbestos, lead, silica dust, and pollutants of every sort. All of which have been linked to cancer, mesothelioma and upper respiratory failure. Not to mention the damage to our ears or the damage to our hearts because of the intolerable stress. Some of our neighbors have fled. But none of this, nothing, has affected the plutocrats who are safely tucked away in one of their homes on another continent.
Daniel J McCarron, whose 68th Street apartment overlooks the rear of the pit worries about whether he should be screened for cancer. He is both a husband and a father of three.
Carol Xianxiao Liu, an attorney, whose window overlooks the 69th Street side states: “I work late and can’t go to bed before 2am. I also need to work from home for early morning calls. I have to sit on my bathroom floor with my laptop and make calls from there.”
Elliot J. Cohen on West 69th Street writes on the Block Association Facebook page: “It was wonderful to be able to sleep with my windows open this holiday weekend. But now the construction banging and fumes have started and I realize it is going to be a long, hot summer.”
Olga Berg whose apartment is across from “the pit” and who is both a wife and a mother of two testified at the Community Board 7 (CB7) meeting on May 7th that “the fumes from the machinery makes her family feel like they are being gassed every day.”
Ashley England lamented on our newly formed Iceberg Homes Facebook group: “Made the mistake of working from home again today! I don’t think people who live elsewhere can understand…it’s like when someone revs a motorcycle but for hours, non-stop, right outside your window.”
Anastzija Anastasova who lives across from the construction site adds: “My husband works really late until 4-5am and this starts at 8am and he can’t sleep past 8am when the noise starts. It’s terrible. It’s affecting his work. Where is he supposed to sleep? And the dust! There is so much dust and dirt that I can’t keep the windows open. Even my plant died!”
Amy Israel-Costigan, resident of #49. “I sleep with earphones and put pillows over my head. Every morning this apartment shakes, rattles and I wonder how much structural damage they are doing to neighboring apartment buildings. I live in the wake of nonstop dust and dirt for their pleasure palace. This is a neighborhood under attack.”
Gabrielle Fink who is one of many neighbors who had to flee: “My last year was hell and I really didn’t want to move but I couldn't live with that next door. I asked for a rent reduction and they didn’t give it to me so I moved.”
Tamar Kiki Gonzalez who is another of many neighbors who fled: “I was at 51 West 68th Street and my studio balcony overlooked the drilling. I couldn’t sleep in the morning and also work from home was impossible.”
Deborah Brown at the CB7 meeting stated: “It’s tragic beyond words to know that my next-door neighbor who was in hospice for a few weeks before he died drew his last breath with the emissions from the drilling two doors away.”
Penny Shaw at the CB7 meeting said: “It is zoned for residential use but we’re concerned that a zoning change request will happen in the future. Pierre Bastid is a billionaire and has boutique hotels. Given the scope of the project we are concerned there could be a zoning request from residential to commercial.”
Frances Francoise, a member of the West 69th Street Block Association, wrote on the Facebook group page: “Building #50 is a one family resident but rent it out to personal friends -- as a guest house – guess what: you have a boutique hotel.”
Kirby Sommers, Real Estate Consultant and Founder of Iceberg Homes: “Plans for the excavation have changed since the project was approved in 2014 and it is clear the owners were not transparent about their plans. Therefore, this basement development does not in fact fall under permitted development rights, as previously thought, but should instead require planning permission. The agencies have to adopt rigorous screening and limit "basement excavations" to no deeper than cellar level. No thought has been given to the general rules of Urban Planning and of possibly restricting access of future transportation needs of the City of New York. This was recognized 100 years ago and NYC planners, architects and city agencies have seriously failed New Yorkers as a whole for the benefit of one super wealthy couple. Billionaire basements have to be stopped and retroactively the owners must be held 100% responsible for any and all harms to their neighbors and to our infrastructure.”
What is a street? A block? A neighborhood?
David Margolick, a neighbor and journalist on 68th Street (the rear side of the pit) recently wrote an article in the New York Times entitled ‘That Noise? The Rich Neighbors Digging a Basement Pool in Their $100 Million Brownstone.’ Pierre Bastid and his wife declined to comment when Margolick reached out. This is not surprising as it is clear they do not belong on this street or any street. Nor does the monstrosity we know as the “Iceberg Home.” These homes of the super wealthy where mega basements are built in order to skirt zoning rules were banned in London and almost immediately appeared in New York City on the Upper West Side on a tree-lined street on West 69th Street.
Not only is it surprising that an iceberg home was approved by the agencies whose oversight we need to ensure our zoning laws are complied with but zoning for the combined brownstones states it is a one family home. It seems everyone except the agencies are aware that it will be a short-term rental for the very rich and not a one family home as the owners pretend.
The success of a neighborhood depends on the fact that the people who live on any particular street feel safe and secure. This will not be the case if a boutique hotel is tucked away behind the vestiges of what used to be two brownstones disguised as an ordinary home with ordinary people.
The transformation of West 69th Street from a residential block into a de facto hotel district has to be more carefully analyzed. The Landmarks Preservation Commission as well as the Department of Buildings (and other city agencies as well as politicians) have essentially looked the other way for years. It is no wonder sidewalk cafes are welcome and that the severe rat and trash issues do not seem to be a big deal. That alterations to the roofs and change of use/occupancy for the basements into restaurants do not raise eyebrows but rather approval.
The destruction of 48-50 West 69th Street is a compelling visual and auditory example of how the 1% continues to a) displace tenants; b) reduce the number of available housing units; c) has pitted homeowners and renters against each other; d) has redefined gentrification for only the 1% (in New York those considered to be part of the 1% earn over $2 million per year; and e) has shown how the subtle transformation of a residential block (West 69th Street) into a commercial one for the use of short term housing (where income can be as much as 300% higher than a traditional year-long lease) has created a toxic environment for all.
The hidden cost.
In some cities, notably New York, locals subsidize absentee owners. We can’t afford it on any level. Health. Housing. Affordability. Toxins. Trash. Rats. Noise. Pollution. Strangers. Construction workers lining the street eating their sandwiches on the stoops or the sidewalk and littering our homes. Accidents. Gas leaks. The threat of walls collapsing. Of people dying. Of landlords who become even more hell bent on forcing people out of their homes in order to generate even more rent from tinier and tinier apartments. The cost of moving. The cost of relocation. The cost of sleepless nights. The cost of poor performance in our jobs. The cost of our one person businesses some of us run out of a desk in our apartments. The cost to the cleanliness of our apartments. The cost to the health of our pets. The cost of the health of our children. The cost to the loss of our block. The cost to the loss of our neighborhood.
What we demand.
The quality of life issues must be addressed. How can anyone in their heart of hearts truly believe it is okay to displace people, that it is okay that to rent a studio apartment a person has to make a six figure salary (only to flee because of the multiple problems on the block), that it is okay to place profits over people, that it is okay to allow a stranger in at the risk of the safety of others?
We are voicing our unified and collective objection to this “Iceberg Home” not just on our block but throughout New York City as a whole. All agencies that approved this atrocity have to use the standard of appropriateness which emphasizes best practices as developed by the professional preservation committee for the preservation of historic buildings. And to Mayor DeBlasio the selling of our homes, our streets, our neighborhoods and our city to the 1% has to be stopped. A full ban of iceberg homes, as they did in London, has to be implemented immediately. Starting with a full rescind stop work order at 48-50 West 69th Street. Additionally, anyone who creates or attempts to create a de facto commercial block by whatever method on residential streets has to be held fully accountable and held to the strictest standards of the law.
We ask Pierre Bastid to compensate those who were displaced, we ask Mr. Bastid to pick up the tab on having all of us screened for cancer and other respiratory illnesses we may have been exposed to, we ask Mr. Bastid to compensate us for our out of pocket expenses for additional cleaning of our homes, we ask Mr. Bastid to reimburse property owners for the loss of rental income, we ask for Mr. Bastid to reimburse business owners for productive hours lost as a result of the construction, we ask for Mr. Bastid to put a substantial financial sum into an escrow account with his attorney, Lawrence E. Fabian, so that the residents can be reimbursed for those things that we do not see now but which may surface in the future. And we ask Mr. Bastid to put a dollar amount on the pain and suffering he has put his neighbors through and to make these disbursements within 60 days of the writing of this letter. A full list of affected neighbors will be supplied to his attorney upon request.
YOU CAN HELP.
You do not need to live on the Upper West Side or even in New York City to participate in saving our historic buildings and our quality of life. If you would like to keep abreast of news, activity or want to volunteer, please join us at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/iceberghomes/
Sign and share this petition and please forward to your friends and colleagues. Together we can stop the Iceberg Home on West 69th Street and keep them out of New York City entirely!
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