BY MADELEINE THOMPSON
Over the summer, residents of Greenwich Village found themselves faced with numerous development projects that proposed to alter their historic district. Between a mega-development at 500 Washington Street, luxury mansions at 11-19 and 85-89 Jane St., and the renovation of a whole block of the Meatpacking District at 46-74 Gansevoort St., the residents and preservationists who have showed up to defend each of these sites oppose everything from the scale to the building materials of the proposals.
Sometimes paper signs and petitions have little effect on the powers that be, but other times they see some results.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission last week approved a much subtler redesign for 85-89 Jane St., which the panel first heard about at a mid-July panel. The original design, by Steven Harris Architects LLP, proposed to build a four-story single-family home with a large window and a 80-foot translucent glass tower in the middle of a row of brownstones. After it was deemed inappropriate by the Commission and denounced by residents, the redesign ditched the glass tower in favor of a glass-walled garden and stepped-back penthouse.
Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said in his testimony at the hearing that the redesign was a “vast improvement” over the original.
“The historic buildings we urged be maintained are to be largely preserved and restored. And the proposed additions are much more modest and in keeping with the character of the street and the neighborhood,” Berman said. “This is a good example of what the Landmarks Preservation Commission should be doing — preserving our neighborhoods’ history and character, listening to the concerns of the public, and working with applicants to find ways to address their needs while fulfilling their mandate to protect our landmarks.”
The Landmarks commissioners approved the new design with the caveat that the developers work with the commission to ensure that one of the cornices is satisfactory.
But not all such stories have a happy ending. Last week, the Save Gansevoort group filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court to overturn the commission’s approval of the 46-74 Gansevoort St. project.
Aurora Capital and William Gottlieb Real Estate were given the go-ahead in early June to turn five buildings on a low-lying block of the Meatpacking District into much taller commercial and office space.
“Unless annulled, vacated and reversed, the determination would pose a risk to every district in New York City, as [Landmarks], henceforth would be free to remove the very historic, culture and aesthetic fabric of every designated neighborhood,” the lawsuit read.
Zack Winestein, a founder and co-chair of Save Gansevoort, has been fighting preservation battles for 25 years and was part of the successful effort in 2003 to disallow retail, office and restaurant development in the Meatpacking District.
“The developer who’s trying to put up two massive buildings on this site has acknowledged that he will be going back and trying to get the amendment changed to allow for office use,” Winestein said back in June. “The rationale for destroying the one- and two-story market buildings is that they’re returning it to a previous configuration when there were tenement buildings on this street. We think that’s pretty bogus.”
Save Gansevoort is being represented by attorney Michael Hiller. He helped stop the conversion of an Upper West Side church into luxury condominiums at the same time the Gansevoort project was approved.
The case of 11-19 Jane St. was put on hold when the commission did not take action on it this summer and has yet to be re-proposed. And the large-scale redevelopment of 500 Washington St. is still in the community review stage, under the jurisdiction of Community Board 2.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com