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The Battle of Carnegie Hill


Joining McFadden on the barricades have been Paul Newman and Kevin Kline. On February 8, 2000, CitiNeighbors turned out several hundred strong for the landmarks commission's hearing on the project, an encounter that developer Cary Tamarkin likened to "having my head banged against a wall for five hours continuously."

Sony Corporation of America CEO Sir Howard Stringer, another Carnegie Hill resident, was among those who testified against the project, at McFadden's request. "Everybody else was a housewife," she recalls. "He's a person who actually has a salary. He stepped up into this huge void and gave the most eloquent ten-minute talk I ever heard.

"Kevin Kline came to the second landmarks meeting and quoted Richard II," the ebullient McFadden continues, referring to an event on May 16 where Kline declaimed, "How sour sweet music is, when time is broke, and no proportion kept!" ("It just slayed them in the aisles," she says.)

In June, the landmarks commission unanimously rejected the initial design, and in December, Tamarkin came back with a revised proposal cutting the building from seventeen stories and 214 feet to eleven stories and 142 feet. But that didn't satisfy its opponents. "They have these nice little six-story townhouses," Jurate Kazickas explains, of the Queen Anne row houses just north of Citibank. "We'd like another six-story townhouse."

However, the coalition of groups that has opposed the building may be starting to fray. Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Civitas, and the Municipal Arts Society are apparently going to give the project their blessing, or at least not oppose it, at the landmarks commission's April 3 hearing.

"Friends doesn't make comment until we testify at Landmarks," says Lisa Kersavage, the organization's executive director. "But Tamarkin did come to us, and the height is more appropriate than the previous one. We don't want to turn this into an adversarial situation. That's a big reason we're not commenting.

"They've had so many projects up there," she continues, referring sympathetically to Carnegie Hill, "I think that neighborhood feels under siege right now. They're reacting very strongly to every proposal."

While the momentum may be shifting in the developer's favor, don't count out Carnegie Hill's intrepid band of guerrilla fighters just yet. CitiNeighbors' campaign coffers are perilously depleted, according to one of their leaders, but Woody Allen has agreed to screen his new movie at a $500-a-head fund-raiser for the group this spring.

Whatever the resolution, one thing seems almost certain: Some future Allen movie will incorporate the pageantry and pathos of the Landmarks war.

"I'm sure it will find its way into my work," he says. "The whole thing is quite interesting if you choose to play it for laughs. Of course, when you're there it's dead serious, because there's a lot at stake."


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