fighting development, once again, in the village News

| 02 Aug 2016 | 11:18

The latest in a series of Greenwich Village luxury development proposals to come before the Landmarks Preservation Commission is 11-19 Jane Street, which was presented to the commission by David Chipperfield Architects.

In the past few months, applications for luxury developments at 85-89 Jane Street, 46-74 Gansevoort Street and 500 Washington Street have been presented to Community Board 2 and the LPC in what appears to be a mini building boom in the area. Rick Mathews, who lives on Horatio Street behind the existing one-story garage at 11-19 Jane, attributed this to “the excitement over the Meatpacking District, the High Line and the Whitney Museum.”

As a historic district with a distinct architectural character of low-lying rowhouses, Greenwich Village is perpetually fighting back against new developments that do not adhere to the same design. Modern architectural trends favor materials like glass and light-colored stone, which clash with the brownstone and red brick of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings. The 1969 report that designated Greenwich Village a historic district described the area as “unique because it is the only good-sized residential area which has remained largely intact and where the architecture reflects the continuum of a community.” Its uniformity, along with its historic occupation by artists and specialty workshops, are two main reasons it was given historic status in the first place.

For many long-time residents like Mathews, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1977, the fight to preserve their village is a familiar one that has only picked up speed in the last decade. “I think up until the time the Meatpacking District started really booming about 10 years ago or so I think the northwest corner of the Village was pretty quiet,” he said. “The attempt to actually knock down old buildings and build up has only been happening since real estate became all the more valuable.” According to the Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report, these kinds of issues have faced the neighborhood since the early 1800s, when the previously isolated area became more easily accessible to the rest of Manhattan. It was saved from total assimilation by its erratic street pattern and by the way its “early families held onto their houses tenaciously for generations.”

David Chipperfield Architects’ vision for 11-19 Jane Street includes a 100-foot glass facade with a setback penthouse on the sixth floor and the use of cast stone, which would stand out from the darker hues of the rest of the street, though the garage that is there now is painted white. After the developer’s presentation, LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan led the commission in airing concerns about the building and suggesting ways the architect might alter the design to fit the surrounding buildings. “I think if there are departures from what has been put in [the designation report] there has to be a pretty clear finding for why there was that departure,” said Srinivasan, who later noted that she was fine with the proposed building material. “I do think that the penthouse setback and its height are problematic. I don’t think I’m persuaded that … once it’s setback it necessarily becomes part of the streetscape with the taller buildings on Horatio.”

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said he finds the design “intimidating.” “I find the use of cast stone … almost demeaning to the other materials within the district,” he said. “More fundamentally though … I find the demolition of the garage building to be extremely troubling.” Several one-story buildings have been approved for demolition by the LPC before, which some commissioners cited as a reason to approve this project while others worried about the precedent past decisions may have set.

Though less well attended than the LPC hearing on 85-89 Jane, which the commission also took no action on, several residents did show up to hold signs urging the commission to deny the application. The session was not open to public comment -- that portion of the process had occurred in June -- but the neighbors’ presence was clearly felt. Ultimately, the LPC took no action on 11-19 Jane Street.