Commission asks for revisions to controversial redevelopment of Gansevoort Street block

Rendering of proposed development as it would appear when viewed from Whitney Museum. Image credit: BKSK Architects

Scale and massing of proposed new building and additions require moderation. On February 9, 2016, Landmarks heard the applicants’ response to criticism from those who testified at a public hearing on November 10, 2015, concerning the redevelopment of a block face in the Gansevoort Market Historic District. The work encompasses 46-48, 50, 52-58, 60-68, and 70-74 Gansevoort Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets. The five buildings comprise three tax lots. The block is diagonally across from the new Whitney Museum.

The developers of the project, according to the Real Deal, are Aurora Capital and William Gottlieb Real Estate.

The existing buildings were built between 1850 and 1942, and all have been altered to varying extents.  The application would restore the Moderne market building, as well as the Gansevoort Market Building at 52-58 Gansevoort. At 50 Gansevoort, a no-style ancillary structure to the corner market would be replaced with a new four-story building. A three-story addition would be built on the two-story structure at 60-68 Gansevoort, with a setback sixth story. The former truck depot at 7-74 Gansevoort would be demolished, and replaced with a new building rising to six stories at the street wall, with two additional penthouse floors. The setbacks would be visible from public thoroughfares.

At the November presentation Higgins Quasebarth consultant Cas Stachelberg argued that “adaptive reuse and change” were inherent qualities of the district which should not be stifled by landmark designation. He was followed by architects Harry Kendall and Todd Poisson of the firm BKSK who presented the proposal. At 50 Gansevoort, the new building was intended to recall the area’s “utilitarian” structures with steel casement windows, brick cladding, and three marquees utilizing historic cleats. At 60-68 Gansevoort, where five story tenements were reduced to two stories in what Poisson termed an act of “butchery,” red-brick-clad additions would restore the original street wall height, with a cornice above the fifth story.

At the corner of Washington Street where the former truck depot stands, the new building would draw inspiration from the larger scale-industrial architecture of the district, particularly the former Manhattan Refrigerating Company building, as well as historic buildings with “contemporary appendages” like the Diane von Furstenberg building.  The Washington and Gansevoort facades would each have three arched bays relating to historic architecture, a highly contemporary “architectural flourish” at the setback level, and a screen inspired by the trestles of the High Line, visible from both the street, the park, and the Whitney. New marquees made of laser-cut aluminum and glass would be installed across the block.

Kendall stated that restaurant Pastis is anticipated to occupy the Gansevoort Market building.

Over a dozen additional speakers testified at the hearing, the vast majority in opposition. A representative read a joint letter from Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Council Member Corey Johnson, Assembly member Deborah Glick, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Borough President Gale Brewer requesting that Landmarks reject the application as out-of-scale and inappropriate to the district. Deborah Glick also spoke individually, and described the proposal as “unpopular and inappropriate.” A representative of Community Board 2 recommended denial, saying the row was worth preserving as it exists, and that opposition to the project within the community was “near-universal.”

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s Andrew Berman said the planned construction would be an “obliteration” of the historic district’s scale, sense of place, and history. Multiple area residents testified, with Donna Raftery saying the proposal would significantly alter the district’s “distinctive character.” Another resident said the project would negatively affect views from the Whitney. Parents expressed concern about the work’s impact on the adjacent West Village Nursery School. Representatives of the Historic Districts Council, the Victorian Society in New York and Save Gansevoort also testified to the proposal’s inappropriateness.

A representative of Delshah Capital, which owns property in the district, spoke in favor of the redevelopment, saying the project would “bring energy” to an “underutilized” site.

Given the extent of testimony and the late hour, Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan closed the hearing for the day, leaving the applicants’ response and commissioner comments for a later date.

At the February meeting, Kendall and Stachelberg rebutted the criticism as misunderstanding the unique dynamism of the site and the historic district, though they “appreciate the passion” of those who spoke at the hearing. Kendall noted that the existing buildings, except for the Moderne structure on the corner of Greenwich Street, were “fragments” of the buildings that were originally constructed. He said the block was originally occupied mostly by five-story buildings, and the proposal would reestablish the street wall. He also stated that continued growth and change were implicit in the 2003 designation.

Kendall and Stachelberg repeatedly emphasized the great variety of scales, typologies, and use of buildings in the historic district. The applicants also noted that Landmarks had approved large contemporary projects in the area, such as the Morris Adjmi-designed addition to 837 Washington Street.

Chair Srinivasan stated that, since the initial hearing, the commission had received 820 emails in opposition to the project, as well as letters from Corey Johnson and several preservationist organizations reiterating their opposition to the project. In support of the proposal, the commission had received messages from the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Association for a Better New York, Diane von Furstenberg, and 30 local business owners.

Chair Srinivasan said that in reviewing the district’s designation report, she had not found it to weigh any period of the district’s history as more important than any other, and that the commission was not bound to maintain the low-rise scale of the 20th century. Chair Srinivasan endorsed the proposal’s concept, and said the district’s continuous evolution was “part and parcel” of its significance. She found the designs generally sensitive to the district, embracing “a variety of typologies,” but expressed some concerns about the massing, particularly the setback portions on the western end of the block.

Commissioner Fred Bland accepted the concept that the Gansevoort Market Historic District was “fluid and changing,” and found that the “decapitation” of the original buildings from five to two stories was significantly different than the accretion of considered alterations throughout a building’s history that may be worthy of preservation. He suggested that 50 Gansevoort be left as a low-scale building, that the new building at the corner of Greenwich Street should be reduced by one streetwall story, plus the penthouse floors, and that no setback story should be built at 60-68 Gansevoort. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron argued that it was “important to defend the continuous two-story street facade” as it currently exists, and found that the wholesale redevelopment of the entire block front at one time was at odds with the applicants’ portrayal of gradual evolution of changing scales and typologies in the district.

Commissioner Wellington Chen said that it would be impossible to determine a “Kodak moment” in the “multi-phase block’s” history at which its scale and architecture should be preserved, but said he could support a return to a multi-story structure at the corner of Washington Street. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the “remnants” of the existing buildings at the site, and any additions should clearly demarcate old and new fabric.

Srinivasan asked the applicants to revise their plans in light of the commissioners’ comments, particularly reconsider the scale of the proposed work at 60-68 and 70-74 Gansevoort, and to evaluate eliminating both proposed penthouse additions.  She also advised them to simplify the designs of the new canopies. A revised proposal will be considered at a subsequent public meeting.

LPC: 46-50 Gansevoort Street; 52-58 Gansevoort Street; 60-74 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan (17-6619; 17-6620; 17-6621) (Feb. 9, 2016) (Architects: BKSK Architects).

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

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