Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on March 11, 2020
Paul Farr, treasurer of the co-op board at 543 Broadway in Soho, dreamed of installing central air conditioning in his apartment. About half of the 18 shareholders in the early 20th-century brick building also wanted the amenity, while the other half yearned for a lobby renovation. A few wanted neither. You couldn’t cook up a better recipe for conflict.
Instead, the co-op board managed to make everyone happy – relatively speaking – because the cooperators chose to cooperate instead of disagree and litigate.
“What triggered this was, I was installing an air conditioning system that would have required punching a hole in the north-facing wall of my ninth-floor apartment,” says Farr, a software engineer who has been on the board since moving in the building in 2010. But the landlord next door, no friend of the co-op, threatened to sue if the air conditioning project damaged his roof. Time to go to Plan B.
“I petitioned the board to let me put my condensing unit on the roof,” Farr says. “They said yes – but only if I would construct a facility so all 18 apartments could get air conditioning if they wanted it. The co-op would put up half the money, and every unit that wanted AC would have to match what the co-op paid.”
RAND Engineering & Architecture was brought in to design a system that entailed putting condensing units on the roof, then running two shaftways from the second floor to the roof so all residential units in the through-block building (from Broadway to Mercer Street) had the potential to tie into the system. The shaftways carried electrical wiring and refrigerant piping. Since the 1902 building is in the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District, the Landmarks Preservation Commission had to sign off on the rooftop installation, which added a layer of complexity to the project.
The co-op board used $350,000 from the reserve fund to pay for the rooftop installation and the two shaftways – and also finance the crucial extra step. To placate shareholders who prized a cool lobby over a cool apartment, the board installed a new intercom and video security system and renovated the lobby. No one was assessed, and maintenance was not increased. Residents of the top-floor apartments in the 10-story building had some initial anxiety that the machinery on the roof would produce noise and vibration, but their fears proved groundless.
“Everybody got a little bit of something,” says Farr. “It was a pretty good compromise, and the process was fairly civil. I acted as an intermediary to make sure everybody got something they wanted. About half of our shareholders are design professionals, and getting them to agree on a lobby design was a challenge.”
Of course no solution is perfect. Everyone gets to enjoy the renovated lobby, while only those willing to shell out an extra $10,000 get to enjoy central air-conditioning. But there is one area where all boats have risen equally.
“The value of all the apartments has increased materially,” Farr says. “It’s a good selling point that central air is already installed, or it’s available for $10,000. I haven’t heard any complaints from my neighbors, and you know how New Yorkers love to complain.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEER: RAND Engineering & Architecture. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Fulton General Contractor. LOBBY DESIGN: Plainspace Architecture and Design. SHAFTWAYS AND LOBBY CONTRACTOR: Diesel Contracting. PROPERTY MANAGER: Cornerstone Management Systems.
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