light more precious than views to an artist / more on losing views…

More than a river view or an Empire State Building-centered panorama, artist Chuck Close will miss his light, if a proposed NoHo development occurs, putting a unique spin on he question about the value of “views” I addressed last week.
Chuck Close depends on his north light
Lincoln Anderson in The Villager reports that Close’s Bond Street ground floor studio is in jeopardy if a Lafayette Street condominium is permitted to fill in a small space next to his studio. The proposed development would be a 7-story condo on Lafayette.
The main part of development would be ten to twenty feet from his studio, which would limit the north light in the studio. But a small portion (apparently a single story) would fill in the lot adjoining the studio, which varies from six to ten feet wide, and which would be flush against Close’s west wall, covering his windows on that side.
The developer needs a variance for any residential construction, so Close and other artists in the same building (as well as those nearby who are sympathetic) have the opportunity to marshal public opinion.
AIR at issue, but even AIR use could be fatal to the north light
One issue is the Artists In Residence restrictions still in pace on residential buildings in SoHo and Noho (which I would have said are all but dead, before seeing this article and City Council Member Gerson’s concerns about AIR remaining viable), but the more interesting issue (to me, and perhaps to Close) is the possibility of any new building eating his light.
The article explains why this studio is so important to Close. The ground floor location suits his wheel chair, he can bring canvases up from the basement through a slit in the floor and a pneumatic lift, and the main north light (supplemented by his two western windows) comes in through skylights (he paints under the skylights). He has used the studio for 18 years and now does four portraits a year.
The paintings sell for “a lot,” he said, “probably an obscene amount.”
Rauschenberg, et al. beget Schrager (a different kind of ‘artist’)
As Close says, the current values in the neighborhood flowed from the artists who have been there for years.
“Nobody wanted this neighborhood. We saved it,” he said on Tuesday, showing a visitor around his space. “Ian Schrager wants to build here [down the block on Bond Street] now because of the cachet.”
Close has some heavy artist firepower in his neighborhood.
Other notable artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Stella, Brice Marden, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Robert Franks, have also made or continue to make Noho their home, Close wrote in a July 7 letter to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which will consider the variance applications at its July 18 meeting.
Why didn’t he buy it?
Close’s argument boils down to a claim that no one should be able to build in such a way that eliminates his light because the original use of that space was as a courtyard between “his” building and a now demolished townhouse. If he were not the special artist that he is, with the physical limitations that he has, this would be an almost laughable argument. If keeping that space empty was so important to him, he could have bought it, probably with the “obscene” money he makes for his portraits.
In his favor, perhaps, is that the proposed use needs a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals, but it appears that even an as-of-right development on that site would be fatal to the light in the studio.
The Zoning Committee of Community Board 2 will issue an advisory ruling before the BSA hearing tonight. After that, eh losing side may pursue administrative or judicial appeals. But Close maintains that if the developer is allowed to proceed he will have to leave the city.
The stakes are high
This [the studio] can’t be easily duplicated,” he said. “If I lose my light, I’m gone
Essentially, Close is claiming some sort of artist’s-light-easement, which has never been recognized in any court so far as I know. There is not enough detail in The Villager article to be able to tell if there are any compromise shapes or accommodations that can be made to preserve the studio’s light. I suspect that Close would (and should) be wiling to pay a lot of money to keep hi slight by reducing the developer’s “rights’ to build, if such a result is even feasible.
The intersection of Art, politics and Real Estate
But the developer certainly runs the risk that he will be denied his necessary variances because BSA listens to the neighborhood artists and Council member Gerson. If he does, I wonder if he will build whatever he can there as of right (or sell to someone who will), accomplishing the same result for Close.
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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