Two-Story Addition Approved Over Community Opposition

Before and after diagrams of 121 Chambers Street. Image credit: LPC

As part of a zoning application, both facades of through-block cast-iron building will be restored and maintained. On May 9, 2017, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on a proposal for the construction additions and facade restoration to 121 Chambers Street in the Tribeca South Historic District. The through-block building also faces 103 Reade Street. The Italianate-style structure dates to 1861, and is characteristic of the cast-iron and masonry store-and-loft buildings that distinguish much of the district. The site was purchased by Hubb NYC Properties in 2016.

The application for two additional stories will require bulk waivers and other special permits from City Planning. In its application under section 74-711 of the Zoning Resolution, a restoration and maintenance plan will be undertaken, and Landmarks will issue a report to City Planning for modification of use and bulk.

Elizabeth Canon and Jason Friedman of the Office of Joseph Pell Lombardi presented the planned restoration and presented the proposed addition. The building is substantially intact, but degraded. Lost storefronts on the ground floor would be recreated in their original color based on analysis of paint fragments.  Original sandstone on the facade would be uncovered and restored. Bricked-up and non-original windows are planned to be opened and restored to their original profiles with wood frames. Cast iron elements would be repaired and shutters on the facade reinstalled. Bluestone pavers would be re-installed at the sidewalk on Reade Street, and a 20th-century fire escape would be removed from the Reade Street facade.

The two story enlargement, constituting a new sixth and seventh story, would be set back from the front facades and partially set into the roof. The additions would increase the total height of the building from 75 to 105 feet. Friedman said the additions would only be partially visible from some oblique vantages. The additions would be designed to resemble utilitarian rooftop accretions to historic buildings in the area, and will be constructed of concrete and glass, with brick on the sidewalls. The parts of the addition closest to the streetwalls will be set back 15 feet from Chambers Street and 25 feet from Reade Street. The applicants noted that many nearby structures possessed rooftop additions, built both before and after the district’s landmark designation.

Duval & Stachenfeld attorney Robin Kramer discussed the special permit the applicants were seeking under Zoning Resolution. The additions would require waivers from the Sliver Law, height limits, and rear yard equivalent requirements. Kramer said the owners had prepared a plan for the continuing maintenance of the building in accordance with the requirements of special permit.

Kelly Carroll, speaking for the Historic Districts Council, said the proposed restoration work did not justify the additional bulk, which would have the effect of “stretching the building’s original proportions.” The Society for the Architecture of the City said that Landmarks had traditionally not allowed visible two-story additions in Tribeca, and any new height on the building should be limited to one story. Neighboring resident William Sirignano testified that the addition was excessively visible, and Landmarks would set a damaging precedent if it rejected a unanimous Community Board recommendation for denial. Area residents questioned the veracity of the applicants’ visibility studies.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that he Commission had received five emails in opposition to the proposal, and that Manhattan Community Board 1 recommended denial of the rooftop additions.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said that while the Commission generally did not permit two-story additions in the district, the proposal was sufficiently minimally visible to be approvable. Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy expressed concern about the precedent approval of the proposal would set, and urged the applicants to further refine the plan “to make sure it’s completely discreet.” Commissioner Kim Vauss said the historic district was largely experienced on the street level, and had always hosted a variety of accretions.

Chair Srinivasan said that when an addition is partially visible over the sidewalls of other buildings, it “just becomes part of the streetscape.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to issue a certificate of appropriateness to the proposal, and to issue a report to City Planning. On Michael Devonshire’s suggestion, language was inserted into the certificate of appropriateness to mandate that all cast-iron elements are replaced in kind, not reconstructed in fiberglass.

LPC: 121 Chambers Street, Manhattan (19-3880; 19-10613) (May 9, 2017) (Architects: Office of Joseph Pell Lombardi).

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

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