Council refused to landmark Bowery rowhouse

135 Bowery. Image: CityLand

Owner of Federal-style building plans to redevelop site with sevenstory office building. On September 21, 2011, the City Council rejected Landmarks’ June 2011 designation of the Hardenbrook-Somarindyck House at 135 Bowery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The three-and-ahalf story Federal-style rowhouse was built circa 1817 and is owned by First American International Bank. Pursuant to the Charter the Council may modify or disapprove a landmark designation.

The bank purchased 135 Bowery in 2007 for just over $5 million intending to replace it with a sevenstory office building. It obtained permits for the new building in 2009 and gutted the building in preparation for demolition. Landmarks in June 2010 notified the bank that the property had been calendared for a public hearing in July. At the hearing, the bank opposed designation, arguing that the dilapidated building had undergone extensive alterations over the years and lacked architectural significance. A representative of local Council Member Margaret Chin testified that Chin supported designation. 7 CityLand 112 (Aug. 15, 2011). 

At the Council’s Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses Subcommittee hearing, the bank’s representatives reiterated their opposition. Peter Yau, the bank’s executive director, argued that the building’s instability made restoration economically infeasible. Yau explained that the bank planned to apply for federal funds to subsidize commercial rents, and claimed that landmarking the building would prevent the bank from providing the community with affordable office space.

Council Member Chin, who now opposed landmarking the building, said she had changed her mind after reviewing the bank’s redevelopment proposal. Chin said her community had not recovered as quickly as other neighborhoods from 9/11, and she believed that allowing the bank’s project would be in the best interests of the community.

Council Member Daniel J. Halloran questioned whether the building still featured architecturally significant elements. Halloran also asked Landmarks’ representatives vawhy the agency had not considered the building for landmarking until after building and demolition permits had been issued. He remarked that it was “extraordinary how fast [Landmarks] was able to move here, and how slow [Landmarks] is still moving in my district.”

Local residents and representatives from a host of preservation groups supported designation. The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors’ Mitchell Gruber submitted a petition signed by 477 residents in support of landmarking. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, claimed the Bank was attempting to circumvent the landmark process. Bankoff said that if the building could not be preserved because of economic considerations, the bank could pursue a hardship application under the landmarks law.

Subcommittee Chair Brad Lander recommended a motion to reject the designation. Lander stated that the Council played an integral role in the landmark process, and he believed it was important to give deference to the local Council Member when weighing competing values in their neighborhoods. The Subcommittee voted to disapprove the designation by 4-1. Council Member Rosie Mendez voted against rejecting designation. Mendez explained her vote by quoting City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden who said that “once you lose a building, you lose character and history.” Mendez said the community had lost enough character and history.

The Land Use Committee and full Council approved the motion to reject designation. This was the seventh time the City Council rejected a landmark since the dissolution of the Board of Estimate in 1990.

Council: Hardenbrook-Somarindyck House at 135 Bowery (Sept. 21, 2011).

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