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Queens Chronicle

Armstrong museum expansion plan moving

$20M project should begin in 12 months; setback variance needed

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Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:32 am, Thu Apr 25, 2013.

Shovels could be in the ground on a new educational annex for the Louis Armstrong House Museum by this time next year, said museum director Michael Cogswell.

At the beginning of the month a zoning variance went before Borough President Helen Marshall, which is needed for the project to progress as planned.

Architects at Caples Jefferson designed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold-certified building years ago, but the hefty price tag of $20 million took time to raise. During that period the city downzoned the museum’s section of Corona, creating a 10-foot setback in the front yard and an 8-foot one in the side yards when previously there were none, putting the already drawn up plans out of compliance.

The museum is asking for a variance so it does not need to go back to the drawing board on the rounded modern building, which Cogswell says is an impossibility.

“If we were to shrink the building to comply with current zoning we wouldn’t have space for a bus full of school children,” he said. “It’s already a 60-by-90 lot.”

And not fitting extra students and guests goes against the whole point.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum is almost identical to when the iconic jazz musician and his wife lived there. The garage has been remodeled to serve as a reception area in which to buy a ticket and maybe a T-shirt and the basement has a few exhibits, but other than that the house just doesn’t have the space for all the museum wants.

The new building will have a full museum store, the main floor will be dedicated to exhibitions and the upstairs of the two-story structure will house the museum’s extensive archives, which are currently held at Queens College.

“It will be more efficient for the staff, researchers and visitors,” Cogswell.

Community Board 3 overwhelmingly recommended approving the variance.

Board member Ed Westly was in the minority, saying that the modern facade looked like it had “dropped from Mars” and doesn’t fit the look of the neighborhood.

But no one disagreed that the annex should go forward.

“They could have made it more contextually pleasing. That was my only concern,” Westly said. “But obviously we love the Louis Armstrong House Museum. It’s a treasure. No disagreement on that at all.”

The board unanimously voted to support the variance.

The plans’ appearance before the board of Standards and Appeals has not been set.

Welcome to the discussion.