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Chelsea residents protest ‘McMansion’ additions to historic townhouse

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It’s the latest fight between NIMBYs and developers over alterations in historic districts

There’s trouble a’brewing on a quaint Chelsea block, and unsurprisingly, it has to do with plans to expand a 19th-century townhouse. The home in question is 334 West 20th Street, which was built in the 1830s and could receive a 21st-century expansion if its owners have their way—and neighborhood residents are trying to make sure they don’t.

The expansion plans will be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission today, and according to the Wall Street Journal, the fight over the home "has become the latest flashpoint in a dispute over how best to preserve homes in New York City’s recognized historic districts."

On one side, you have NIMBYs fighting against these renovations, arguing that the megamansion trend is disrupting the character of neighborhoods. Residents often argue that, by virtue of being historic districts, these homes should be "frozen in a certain regard," per Carol Ott, a member of the 300 West 20th Street block association. Similar attitudes can be found in neighborhoods across the city, from Chelsea to Cobble Hill and beyond.

On the other side, there are the developers and the architects who are pushing these plans forward. In this case, it’s Sterling Equities, "a group of real estate, sports and media companies that owns the New York Mets," according to the WSJ. They claim that their changes to the home won’t just involve adding bulk; they’ll also include a restoration of the facade and replacing some of the period ironwork.

But that hasn’t convinced opponents, including lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey, who is helping neighborhood residents prepare their case against the megamansion plans. "Now the owners can spend more money on the Mets rather than building a McMansion in a neighborhood where it doesn’t belong," he told the WSJ.

The Chelsea townhouse cited by the WSJ is part of "a pattern of townhouse renovations in the historic district in which the landmarks commission has allowed buyers to expand 19th-century homes." Huge changes to Chelsea’s so-called oldest home, for example, were approved by the LPC earlier this summer over the objections of neighborhood residents.

And while the piece focuses on Chelsea, it’s far from the only neighborhood where this is happening. Perhaps the most famous/ridiculous example is Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s plans to transform three adjacent Upper East Side townhouses into one enormous Frankenmansion. The LPC initially dismissed the plan, but it finally got approved over the summer.