Council nixes designation of Cass Gilbert warehouse

Council overrode mayor’s veto, claiming Cass Gilbert-designed building is unworthy of designation. On December 5, 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the City Council’s vote rejecting the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn warehouse. The Council gathered sufficient votes on December 8th to override the mayor, calling the building simply unworthy.

Landmarks had unanimously designated the Austin Nichols & Co. Warehouse building in September 2005 over the objection of the owner and Council Member David Yassky, Williamsburg’s representative. 2 CityLand 139 (Oct. 15, 2005). The 1913-built, 500,000-square-foot warehouse was designed by Cass Gilbert and is viewed as his first substantial concrete warehouse construction. It sits along Williamsburg’s East River waterfront and within the 183-block area rezoned by the City in May, 2005.

At the Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses hearing on the proposed designation, Landmarks Chair Robert Tierney testified that the designation was important to the city and to Brooklyn. Tierney addressed the owner’s past statements that the building was not designed by Gilbert, calling those allegations untrue, and also rejected Yassky’s comments that the designation would interfere with the goals of the Williamsburg rezoning. Tierney noted that newly emerging areas are helped by landmark designations, and that Landmarks was concerned with the architectural features, not the building’s use.

At the hearing and subsequent vote, Yassky argued that the building would be difficult to convert to residential use if it were designated a landmark and urged the Subcommittee to vote against designation. Council Member Oliver Koppell noted that it was his habit to defer to the council member whose district holds the landmark, so he would support Yassky’s no-vote.

Council Member Melinda Katz, Chair of the Land Use Committee, voted no on the designation, but noted her disagreement with Yassky over the impact of the potential designation on the Williamsburg/ Greenpoint rezoning. Calling herself the “main negotiator” of that rezoning, Katz stated that the designation “has nothing to do with” the rezoning and stated that her vote was a message to Landmarks that the Council would not accept every designation “just because it was outside of Manhattan,” referring to Landmarks’ goal of designating more outer borough buildings.

Prior to his vote to reject the designation, Subcommittee Chair Simcha Felder explained that he was proud that during his tenure as chair, the Subcommittee had rejected three designations, referring to St. John the Divine, the Jamaica Savings Bank in Queens (2 CityLand 145 (Nov. 15, 2005)) and the Austin Nichols warehouse.

Following the vote to reject the designation by the Subcommittee and Land Use Committee, the full Council overturned Landmarks’ designation by a vote of 43-6-1 with only Council Members Tony Avella, Letitia James, Margarita Lopez, Michael McMahon, Bill Perkins and Albert Vann voting to support designation.

Following Mayor Bloomberg’s veto, his second veto on a landmark designation after St. John the Divine, the Council voted 37-8-3, sustaining an override. Council Members Charles Barron and Allan W. Jennings Jr. joined the six original council members supporting the mayor and Landmarks on the designation.

Council: Austin Nichols & Co. Warehouse (December 8, 2005). CITYADMIN

Leave a Reply

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