Landmarks Split on Project Proposed for SoHo Site

Artist's rendering of 150 Wooster Street. Image Credit: CityLand

Artist’s rendering of 150 Wooster Street. Image Credit: CityLand

Landmarks previously approved demolition of one-story garage and new seven-story building in 2011. On March 3, 2015, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered a proposal for the demolition of an existing one-story garage, and the construction of a new six-story-plus-penthouse building, at 150 Wooster Street in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. The two-lot site is currently occupied by a vacant lot and a garage, which was heavily altered from an earlier structure at some point in the 20th century after the building. Landmarks approved a project at the site in 2011, which would have been similar in scale, though one story taller, and also entailed the demolition of the garage. The project was never realized and the building now has different owners, and a different design team has been retained, for an entirely new application.

Attorney Frank Chaney, of the firm Rosenberg & Estis, testified that the proposal, which will be primarily residential with ground-floor retail, would require a zoning text amendment and special permits from City Planning, for use and bulk, lot coverage, and to modify height and setback regulations. Chaney stated that the owners were ready to submit the ULURP applications as soon as they received a certificate of appropriateness from Landmarks. He noted that previously approved proposal had failed in its ULURP bid at the City Council level, largely due to strenuous Community Board opposition. Chaney said the current applicants had worked with the community to address the concerns that had plagued the previous project.

Daniel Schillberg, Managing Director of Design and Architecture at KUB Capital, presented the proposal. He said the design was inspired by the masonry buildings on Wooster Street, rather than the cast-iron architecture that largely characterizes the district. The proposal had large awning windows, inspired those of the district’s historic loft windows.  Four large pilasters on the storefront would “nod to the past,” while steel ribbons would make them read as contemporary.  The storefront would be separated from the upper stories by a cornice.  The front facade would have deep-set windows framed in limestone. The building would be otherwise faced with two varieties of hand-made brick.

The building would be topped by a prominent cornice, in a contemporary design with vent fins. Arched windows at the sixth story of the facade would also serve to delineate the termination of the streetwall. No bulkheads or mechanical equipment would be visible from the street. The building would rise to 87 feet at the streetwall, with a total height 98 feet and nine inches.

The building would present a solid streetwall, but behind the facade a light well would allow light and air into the lot-line windows of the adjoining apartment building at 152 Wooster Street.

The only public testimony came from Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council, who commended the proposal’s design and use of high-quality materials. Zay did request that precautions be taken to ensure construction did not adversely affect adjoining buildings. In 2011, HDC had advised that the existing garage structure be retained and incorporated into the new building. Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that Manhattan Community Board 2 also recommended approval, conditional on the applicants modifying the windows and the ground-floor pilasters.

The proposal divided the Commission. Commissioner Fred Bland found it appropriate as presented, given its contextual massing and materials, and said he was struck by the lack of testimony opposing the project, compared to the community ire raised by the previous proposal. Commissioner Diane Chapin agreed, determining the plan successfully “finds a balance between being contextual and modern.” Commissioner John Gustaffson said the building appropriately resonated with the district’s historic architecture “without being imitative.”

Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron severely differed, finding the proposal failed to successfully translate the context of the historic district in “every single detail.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the design was reminiscent of Lincoln Center, interpreting historical architecture with “a kind of scaleless-ness” and “shyness of detail” that made the building read as “empty of hollow.” Commissioner Michael Devonshire also found the plan to lack nuance.

Chair Srinivasan found the proposal appropriate in scale and materials, and that the general direction of proposal should not be abandoned. She asked the applicants to revise the plan and reconsider its proportions and details, and return to Landmarks at a future meeting.

LPC: 150 Wooster Street, Manhattan (16-5750) (March 3, 2015) (Archiects: KUB Capital).

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

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