'An opportunity to be heroes'

| 30 Nov 2016 | 12:52

The final proposed section of the South Village Historic District got its day in the sun, as it were, on a very rainy Tuesday morning. After a decade of efforts to protect the southernmost parts of Greenwich Village, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) at last held a hearing on landmarking the area bordered by West Houston to the north, Watts Street to the south, Sixth Avenue to the west and Thompson Street to the east. The area is being called the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s original proposal to landmark the South Village was submitted in December 2006, carving out a choppy piece of Manhattan between Greenwich Village and SoHo. Since then the society has brought about the designation of two sections of its original proposal, and it hopes the final Sullivan-Thompson part will complete the puzzle. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, urged commissioners on Tuesday to establish phase three of the project. “In the last several years, many of the district’s significant historic structures have been lost due to the lack of landmark protections,” he said. “With yet another proposed rezoning on this district’s edges right now that will increase development pressure, this is the time to act.”

Representatives from the offices of Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer added their support to the mix, as did Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents the area in question. “Our ability to comprehend and appreciate [immigrant] history is tied into the buildings that line Sullivan and Thompson Streets,” he said. “There is no substitute for experiencing the streetscape and architecture that remain from this era.”

Not far from the proposed new historic district sits Pier 40 which, despite fervent opposition from the community, was recently approved to transfer 200,000 square feet of air rights to the St. Johns Terminal on Washington Street in exchange for $100 million. The impending transfer and redevelopment of the St. Johns Terminal helped get the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District in front of the LPC, as preservationists became desperate to prevent future large-scale air rights transfers.

Members of the Historic Districts Council, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, architects and residents of Greenwich Village and SoHo also lined up to express their support for the new historic district. But not everyone who spoke was in favor. Joseph Rosenberg, executive director of the Catholic Community Relations Council, asked the commission to exclude St. Anthony of Padua Church and its five buildings from the landmarking. “The designation of historic district status imposes a particularly onerous burden on religious institutions,” he said. “Such a designation frequently prevents a parish from effectively utilizing the property to achieve mission-based commitments.”

Steve Hamilton, a property owner on Sixth Avenue between Prince and Spring Streets, said the fees required to renovate landmarked buildings would prevent him from making necessary repairs and restorations. “In 2005 we saved up enough to strip the peeling white paint from the facade, revealing the original brickwork,” he said. “Had we been landmarked the ugly white paint would remain, because the legal fees would’ve consumed more than half of our budget.”

But there were generally more supporters at the hearing than opponents. Deborah Clearman, who spoke on behalf of her co-op in the proposed district, said residents of her building “treasured the historic character and scale” of the neighborhood and were eager for it to be landmarked. Another resident told the commissioners they had “an opportunity to be heroes” by protecting the area.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission plans to vote on the designation of the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District on Dec. 13.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at newsreporter@strausnews.com