Amended plan for new Ladies’ Mile building OK’d

Proposed tower at 39-41 West 23rd Street in Manhattan’s Ladies’ Mile Historic District. Image: Courtesy of Carlos Zapata Studio.

Landmarks approved plans for 22-story glass building in 2005, but project stalled. On June 14, 2011, Landmarks approved Anbau Enterprises’ proposal to amend a certificate of appropriateness for a 22-story glass and metal building on a through-block lot at 39 West 23rd Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. In July 2005 Landmarks approved by a 6-3 vote the prior owner’s plans for a 22-story tower fronting West 23rd Street and a five-story townhouse fronting West 24th Street. 3 CityLand 108 (Aug. 15, 2006). The proposal featured a five-story glass and metal base with a seventeen-story glass and metal tower cantilevered over the adjacent building to the east. The tower’s cantilevered “bulge” receded as it reached the top. Manhattan Community Board 5 and preservationists opposed the original plan.

The prior owner obtained a special permit from the City Planning Commission to modify height and setback requirements in December 2006. However, the development stalled and the owner lost control of the property in 2008. Anbau recently purchased the property and sought to amend the C of A, which is set to expire on July 19, 2011.

At Landmarks’ May 2011 meeting, Anbau’s attorney, Francis Angelino, claimed that the modifications were needed due to changes in the building code and environmental regulations. According to architect Peter Samton, of Gruzen Samton, the most significant modification would be reducing the amount of exterior glass in order to increase the building’s energy efficiency.

The original project’s architect, Carlos Zapata, presented the revised design. The new project would retain its originally proposed height and form along West 23rd Street, but angled indentations on the facade and east wall would be removed for a simpler and more streamlined effect. Portions of the building’s exterior would now be clad in limestone rather than glass. The tower’s western sidewall would feature bands of limestone and glass. The building fronting West 24th Street would no longer emulate the form of the adjacent townhouse, which has since been demolished, and would now feature a flat facade.

Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that the Commissioners’ review of the modifications would effectively be a “second look” at the proposal, noting that denying the amendment would likely end the project. Landmarks’ General Counsel Mark Silberman explained that the Commissioners were charged with determining whether the proposed changes would be “in the spirit of the previous approval.” If they wanted to radically alter the project in terms of scale, shape, or materials, Landmarks would need to bring the project back for a full public hearing.

The Commissioners responded ambivalently to the revised design. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea characterized the changes as a “simplification” that diminished the original design’s dynamic character. Commissioner Michael Goldblum, who was not a member of Landmarks in 2005, stated that the increased use of limestone detracted from the building’s sculptural quality. Commissioner Libby Ryan noted that she approved of the design in 2005, and found it appropriate today. Commissioner Joan Gerner, who voted against the proposal in 2005, found the revised design more contextual and appropriate. Finding no consensus, Chair Tierney closed the meeting without calling for a vote.

Anbau returned in June with a revised proposal. The plan retained the simplified facade along West 23rd Street, but reincorporated glass into the design to replace the masonry elements. According to Zapata, the project would maintain energy efficiency by using insulated, translucent glass. The revised proposal also reduced the height of the building fronting West 24th Street from five to three stories.

The Commissioners generally supported the revised proposal, although several objected to a proposed balcony on the northeast corner of the tower that was not included in the initial proposal. Landmarks approved the modifications with the condition that Anbau revise the plan to eliminate the balcony. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter opposed the project.

LPC: 39-41 West 23rd Street, Manhattan (11-8899) (June 14, 2011)(Architects: Carlos Zapata Studio; Gruzen Samton).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.