Greenwich Village Corner Lot Redevelopment Approved after Revisions

Previous and Current renderings. Image: LPC.

Residential development, with ground-floor commercial space, will occupy two lots, replacing service station structures. On February 6, 2018, Landmarks voted to approve a proposal to demolish two buildings and construct a new building spanning two lots at 540 and 544 Hudson Street, at the corner of Charles Street, in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The site is occupied by two buildings of one and two stories, which were until recently part of an automobile service station. An initial proposal, made to the commission in June of 2017, raised the ire of local elected officials, residents and preservationist organization. William Gottlieb Real Estate is the developer.

Testimony at the 2017 hearing focused on the outsize scale of the six-story-plus-penthouse building, the undifferentiated facade spanning two lots on Hudson streets, and the proposal’s lack of sympathy to the historic district. Some speakers also argued for the preservation of the existing structures on the lot.

Commissioners found demolition of the existing buildings appropriate, but found the design needed refinements in facade articulations, and would benefit from a reduction in sale.  Some found the undifferentiated brick facing material and uniform windows monotonous. The demolition heavily altered existing structures on the site was deemed appropriate.

When the applicants retuned to Landmarks, Consultant Elise Quasebarth introduced the revised proposal. Quasebarth said that, directly across the street from the project sites, stood a six-story building with a penthouse, and the proposal had been modified to match its streetwall height. She also provided examples of other visible penthouses and rooftop bulkheads in the area.  The proposed streetwall was lowered four-and-a-half feet, by reducing floor-to-floor heights. A “quieter” cornice would allow the new building to better relate to historic cornices and parapets. The changes to the building’s fenestration would reduce its “apparent scale.” Masonry piers would be brought down to the storefronts at the base, giving it a “heftier” presence.

Architect Morris Adjmi presented the revised design. The previous design had been criticized for its monotony, and the designers believed its regularly spaced window pattern contributed to that perception. The modified proposal grouped windows in in sets of three, aligning with storefronts at the base, and, together with the pattern of undulation, better recalling historic bays in a contemporary manner. Windows would also be smaller on the upper stories.   The facade’s “wave” was also modified so that it would be concave where it met adjoining lot, reducing the building’s prominence when viewed form the east or north.

At the storefronts, metal panels would be removed from the proposal, and transoms and pilasters added. A sloped roof, reduced height, and deeper setbacks would help minimize the visual impact of the penthouse. Bulkheads and mechanical equipment would also be relocated. The revised proposal retained the red brick cladding previously presented, and the building would still be energy efficient to passive house standards.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that the Commission had received a letter from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation voicing their continued opposition to the project, due to the still-repetitive design of the facades, and the visibility of the penthouse.

Commissioner Fred Bland said the plan was “markedly improved,” and now appropriate. Bland found the less “aggressive” revised proposal to comfortably relate to the district without copying from it. Commissioner Michael Goldblum agreed that building was now of an appropriate scale for the district, that no longer “looms over” nearby structures. Goldblum opined that the visibility of the penthouse could possibly be further reduced through the applicants working with Landmarks staff.

Chair Srinivasan agreed that subtle refinements to the original proposal had “brought the building home.” She praised the undulating facade as a creative way of interpreting historic elements within the district.

Commissioners voted unanimously to issues the applicants a certificate of appropriateness, with the provision that they work further with Commission staff to explore way to further minimize the penthouse.

LPC: 540, 544 Hudson Street, Manhattan (19-09729) (February 6, 2017) (Architect: Morris Adjmi Architects).

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

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