Back in March, Protect the Village Historic District sued the Landmarks Preservation Commission over its granting of a hardship to St. Vincent’s Hospital, so that it might demolish Albert C. Ledner’s National Maritime Union Headquarters, now known as the O’Toole building, and replace it with a new hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb and Freed. The focus of PVHD’s suit is that the hospital did not explore suitable alternatives, nor did the commission require them, but now, the state Supreme Court appears to be questioning the very nature of the hardship finding—that retaining the O’Toole buildings prevented the hospital from carrying out its charitable mission—or at least that is the finding of a brief filed today by the Municipal Art Society and half-a-dozen preservation groups that directly challenges the LPC on the matter.
Filed on behalf of neither the petitioners nor the defendants but at the behest of the court, which is trying to better understand the mechanics of the hardship finding, the MAS’ attorneys argue that the LPC erred in finding that a hardship was created by the O’Toole building when in fact it was the neighboring buildings that created the problems for the hospital. The LPC then falsely created a campus that included both the historic buildings east of Seventh Avenue and the Ledner building west of it, and with this campus, extended the hardship from the buildings responsible for it to the one that was not.
MAS and company—Historic Districts Council, Greenwich Village Society, the National Trust, the Preservation League, Brooklyn Heights Association, and Friends of the UESHD—argue that in part because the Ledner building remains quite usable, and is not directly infringing on the functioning of the neighboring hospital, it can not be held accountable. And this does not even get into the issues of whether sufficient off-site alternatives were explored and the fact that St. Vincent’s knowingly bought a landmark it could not alter, which are at the heart of the original suit.
MAS does note that the standards for determining hardship are complex, and it should also be pointed out that, while ostensibly neutral, all seven amici have lobbied on behalf of preserving the Ledner buildings and indeed hold quite a vested interest in the LPC’s defeat. Simply consider the conclusion of the brief [PDF], which states, in part, that the commission “has created a dangerous precedent that may have a devastating effect on the preservation of landmark buildings and historic districts throughout New York City.” This is personal.
We’re still waiting to hear back from some real estate attorneys as to the exact role this brief might play in the case, whether or not it will actually sway the judges, but as soon as we know, you’ll know.