By Carter B. Horsley
Last week, the United States attorney's office
in Manhattan sent letters to about a dozen of the city's most
important landlords such as Avalon Bay Communities, The Related
Companies, the Durst Organization, Rockrose Development and Silverstein
Properties and their architects noting that some of their buildings
were not accessible to people with disabilities and therefore
discriminatory under the Fair Housing Act that was passed in 1988.
City and real estate officials are arguing
that compliance with Local Law 58 satisfies the federal requirements.
About 100,000 rental apartments and thousands of condominiums
have been erected in the city since the law went into effect in
1991. The city's law required that all new and renovated apartments
be made accessible to the disabled while the federal standards
required only that 5 percent comply.
The Fair Housing Justice Center made a survey
in 2006 of 14 recent buildings and found that all had interior
doors that were too narrow, thermostats that were too high and
not enough clear floor space in bathrooms and the center referred
their findings to the U.S. Attorney.
This important dispute, however, apparently
is about the insides of apartments and does not address the very
widespread existence of step-up and step-down entrances that can
prove difficult for the disabled.
Low-angled ramps can provide a viable alternative
to steps but they are few and far between.
The Carlyle Towers mixed-use building at 115
East 87th Street, for example, has a school on its lower floors
on 88th Street and a large, landscaped plaaz on 87th Street with
a nine-step entrance. The building, however, has a very long ramp
to the west of its raised entrance, set back behind its extensive
sidewalk landscaping. The street-side of the ramp has a brick
wall that is quick visible but only a couple of feet high.
A more discrete access ramp exists at 838 Fifth
AVenue on the southeast corner at 65th Street across from Temple
Emanu-El. Its entrance is only two short steps up and the ramp
is next to the building and behind a low hedgerow.
A more visible disabled access ramp can be
found on the north side of the 4-step-up entrance to the Bretton
Hall apartment building at 2350 Broadway between 85th and 86th
Streets. It is relatively short in length with a decortive, cast-iron
Some commercial buildings have similar access
concerns. At 40 East 52nd Street, which was erected in by the
Rudin organization, the large, elegant lobby extends through the
block to 53rd Street, which is several feet lower than 52nd Street.
There are two broad sets of stairs in the lobby but the east side
of the lobby has two "loggias" with gentle ramps forthe
The problem often does not end at the front
door as often older buildings have more stairs in their vestibules
The building at 838 Fifth Avenue was converted
in 2001 from an 11-story office building into a 10-unit residential
condominium project by Albert A. Taubman, then the chairman of
Sotheby's, the auction house, and the Taubman Group, a leading
developer and owner of shopping malls, and Louis M. Dubin, who
is Mr. Taubman's son-in-law, and Metin Negrin, both of the Athena
In a March 3, 2000 article in The New York
Times, Rachelle Garbarine wrote that, according to Bret S.
Bobo, the sales director for the development, the developers were
"drawn to the building because 'it was the only opportunity
left in a prime location,' on Fifth Avenue with Central Park frontage
between East 60th Street and the upper 90s, 'to convert to condominiums.'"
The apartments range in size from 4,522 to
5,423 square feet aned in price intially from $9 million to $18
The building was designed by Harry M. Prince
in 1950 for the Union of American of Hebrew Congregations and
Mr. Taubman, Mr. Dubin and Mr. Negrin expanded it in the conversion
by adding one floor and a 10-story addition on 65th Street.
"In October 1998, 838 Associates bought
the building for $30 million from the Union of American Hebrew
Congregations, which moved to 633 Third Avenue at 40th Street.
Though the union first sold the building through a sealed bid
to Beit Yaakov, a Sephardic congregation, which had wanted to
rebuild it as a synagogue, that sale never closed, and ultimately
the building was sold to the development group. To create the
apartments the developers envisioned, they also purchased, for
$7 million, the adjacent property at 2 East 65th Street, which
has been razed, and combined it with the 20-foot-deep rear yard
behind 838 Fifth Avenue to provide room for the 10-story addition.
A 12th floor will be added to the original building to form the
penthouse. The project was granted a certificate of appropriateness
from the Landmarks Preservation Commission," according to
Ms. Garbarine's article.
Most of the interior of the former office building
was demolished and reconfigured to apartments with nine-foot-high
ceilings. Schuman Lichtenstein Claman & Efron designed the
apartment layouts that include corner living rooms of up to 47
by 20 feet and libraries with wood-burning fireplaces. The building
has a rooftop terrace and Beyer Blinder Belle, the architects
for the project, clad its exterior of the addition with limestone
from the same quarry as used on the Fifth Avenue building.
The Fifth Avenue facade of the building has
a prominent inscription: "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself."
On the sidestreet is another facade inscription that states "Do
Justly Love Mercy Walk Humbly With Thy God."
The top of the building was arched and some
observers have noted that it the whole facade resembles a stone
The building has seven ground-floor studio
apartments for staff members, measuring 257 to 339 square feet
and selling - but only in conjunction with the purchase of a larger
apartment - for an average initially of $500,000 each. Nine 45
square-foot wine cellars and 15 storage units, with 30 to 111
square feet, are be in the basement.