One downtown preservation group claims that New York has reached the “end of the landmarks approval process” with one crucial decision this week.
At Tuesday’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the commission voted 8–2 to approve a building plan on Gansevoort Street between Greenwich and Washington streets. Some neighborhood activists, though, are not happy about the plan.
In a 94-page document submitted to the LPC in advance of Tuesday’s public meeting, the developers, William Gottlieb Real Estate and Aurora Capital, presented designs prepared by New York–based BKSK to modify 60-68 Gansevoort and 70-74 Gansevoort, two market buildings that date from the late 19th century (but have been modified substantially over time) and are some of the last vestiges of this type of commercial architecture in New York. The buildings fall within the Gansevoort Market Historic District, which was established in 2003.
Plans call for the restoration and preservation of buildings at 46-48 and 52-58 Gansevoort Street, as well as restoring the existing facade and expanding the second floor at 50 Gansevoort. Three stories will be added to an existing two at 60-68, and 70-74 Gansevoort will host four-story (62 feet) and six story (around 83 feet) buildings, respectively. 70-74 is a “loft-style” building that, the architect’s plans suggest, conform to the typology of surrounding lofts and warehouses, but not 46-48 and 50-58.
These plans were modified per suggestions from the LPC in February 2016, although the developers disregarded suggestions to lower the height of 60-68 and 70-74 to conform fully with their more diminutive neighbors.
The advocacy organization Save Gansevoort believes that the LPC’s green light spites the historic district, whose historic value rests on the row of intact market buildings. In a statement, Save Gansevoort noted that the group is “deeply disappointed in the Landmark Preservation Commission’s decision today to accept this massive building plan, disregarding the Gansevoort Market Historic District’s designation report and more than 75 years of history. The Commission’s ruling will not only destroy the last intact block of one-and two-story, market-style structures in Manhattan, but it is also the latest sign that unrestricted development is killing the unique character of so many of our city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. In this day and age, it is disconcerting that even our landmarked areas are no longer protected.”
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) decried the lack of opportunity for public testimony at Tuesday’s meeting in an email to supporters. In a letter to LPC commissioner Meenakshi Srinivasan submitted in advance of the hearing, Andrew Berman, executive director of GVSHP, noted that the row of buildings, even with alterations in 1916, were 50 to 55 feet in height, including cornices. Although the developers backed away from new construction that included a 120-foot-tall building at 70-74, the group claims that plans for 70-74, and approved plans for a 62-foot-tall 60-68 Gansevoort Street, don’t mesh with historic neighboring buildings, whose heights averaged 56.5 feet. 70-74 is modeled on a “warehouse,” not “loft,” with an attendant height difference: 70-74 will be taller than any loft in the neighborhood and 25 to 40 feet taller than the average building in the historic district, said GVSHP.
Overall, preservationists believe this week has not been kind to the historic built environment. The day after the Gansevoort decision, the city council adopted Intro 775A, 38–10. The controversial bill was designed to expedite the LPC’s landmarks approval process by imposing deadlines on consideration of items. If a property is not voted on within one year (or a district in two), it is removed from consideration. While the law provides more flexibility within one and two-year deadlines for designation, and a possible one-year extension for individual landmarks under consideration, it removes the 5-year moratorium on landmarks and districts that were nominated but not voted on by the LPC. Among other concerns, groups like GVSHP fear that Intro 775A will encourage developers to try to “run out the clock” so properties are not landmarked.
In an email to supporters, the Historic Districts Council called Intro 775A “unnecessary,” noting that “[no] one likes a backlog but internal LPC rules would have been the preferred route towards a more accountable designation process.”
There are potential loopholes, however. The LPC thinks it can de-calendar and de-calendar an item before the deadline hits, ad infinitum, to avoid the moratorium and give items more time for consideration.