Commissioners Ask for Revisions to Controversial Jane Street Development

11 Jane Street Rendering. Image Credit: LPC.

11 Jane Street Rendering. Image Credit: LPC.

Proposal to replace 1920s garage building with residential development was opposed by community members and their elected officials. On July 26 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard the applicants’ response to public testimony regarding an application to redevelop a lot at 11 Jane Street in the Greenwich Village Historic District, and discussed the proposal. The lot is currently occupied by a two-story 1921 garage building. The applicants proposed to replace the garage with a seven-story residential structure.

At the June 21st hearing, the applicants presented a plan designed by architect David Chipperfield to replace the garage. Chipperfield presented a building rising to five stories at the street wall, with two additional penthouse stories, faced in off-white cast-stone. A substantial bulkhead would be sited on the roof. The setback floors and the bulkhead would be partially visible from vantages on public thoroughfares. The building would be residential in use, incorporating a one-family multi-story “maisonette,” apartments, and a garage for occupants.

The building would be 83 feet tall at the cornice, with a total height of 118 feet and nine inches, with the penthouse floors and bulkhead. The garage at the site is approximately 30 feet tall.

Over two dozen area residents testified at the hearing in opposition to the project. Assembly Member Deborah Glick and State Senator Brad Hoylman issued a joint statement condemning the proposal’s height and mass, and urging the adaptive reuse of the existing garage structure. Council Member Corey Johnson also opposed the building as out-of-scale and harmful to the district.  Manhattan Community Board 2 issued a resolution recommending denial of the proposal.

Because of the extensive testimony, the hearing went beyond the meeting’s scheduled end time, and Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan laid over the applicants’ response to the testimony, as well as Commissioner discussion, for a later date.

When Landmarks reconvened on the matter, Chipperfield reiterated that Jane Street possessed buildings in a variety of heights, and argued that the “straightforward” and rigorous” design of the proposed facade with grid-like organization of “rhythmic” openings “sits quite comfortably” in the streetscape. He also contested accusations that the proposal was out of scale with the other buildings on the street, providing examples of other nearby, taller buildings.

Higgins and Quasebarth consultant Ward Dennis emphasized the “edge condition” of the site, on the northern border of the historic district, and that the building had a backdrop of much taller, non-historic structures. He also stated that the section of Jane Street on which the garage is located is very “eclectic,” with buildings in variety of styles, ages and heights. Dennis further stated that the garage was “not a good candidate” for adaptive reuse, requiring significant alterations and structural reconfigurations to make it compatible with zoning for residential use

Attorney Shelly Friedman, of Friedman and Gotbaum, stated that the district’s designation report was written before styles were given to every building, and identified as “contributing” or “non-contributing.” However, Friedman said the report, which describes the 11 Jane Street and another garage building as “intruders on a residential street,” clearly did not intend to identify the garage as possessing any historic or architectural significance. Friedman asserted that the garage was “certainly capable of being demolished under the Landmarks Law.”

Before the commissioner’s’ discussion, Chair Srinivasan stated that Landmarks had received a letter from Borough President Gale Brewer expressing concern about the scale of the proposed development.

Srinivasan first asked the Commissioners to make a determination on the threshold issue of the garage’s demolition. Landmarks Counsel Mark Silberman advised that, while the findings of a designation report were not legally binding, designation reports set expectations for the public and stakeholders in historic districts and properties, and that, historically, Commissioners had sought to act consistently with what was written in the report. Executive Director Sarah Carroll Commissioner stated that Landmarks had, in the past, allowed the demolition of garage buildings in Greenwich Village. Commissioner John Gustafsson observed that the historic district was designated in 1969, and the understanding of buildings significance and contributions evolved over time.

The majority of Commissioners agreed that the garage’s demolition could be appropriate. Commissioner Michael Devonshire, disagreed, determining that “anomalous buildings are important,” and worried that allowing demolition would set a precedent for the destruction of other historic utilitarian structures.

Regarding the proposed new structure, Commissioners concurred that the project was not appropriate as proposed. Commissioner Devonshire said cast stone was inappropriate for the street, where the buildings were bound together by their universal use of brick, and as a “substitute material,” the cast stone was “almost demeaning to the other materials within the district.” He also found that the proposal had an inappropriate and “very imposing” presence on the block. Commissioner Michael Goldblum agreed that the proposal was “not right for this site,” and the use of cast stone was a “mistake.” Goldblum added that the windows of historic buildings on the block were consistently part of a “punched volumetric surface,” and the traviated design of the proposed facade was not appropriate. Commissioner Wellington Chen determined that the proposal’s height, bulk and thin cornice required reconsideration, and suggested that any setback should start at the fourth floor, rather than the fifth.

While not in attendance at the July meeting, at the previous hearing Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron had opined that an alternative plan incorporating the existing garage should be presented and considered.

Chair Srinivasan found the streetwall height of the proposal acceptable, and did not agree that cast-stone could not be used as a face material for the location. She did say that the visible penthouse stories were “problematic.” She asked the applicants to reconsider their proposal in light of commissioners’ comments and return to Landmarks at a later date.

LPC: 11-19 Jane Street, Manhattan (18-5336) (July 26, 2016) (Architects: David Chipperfield Architects).

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


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