Plan for Six-Story-Plus-Penthouse Single-Family Home Approved

Artist Rendering of 34 West 21st Street. Image Credit: LPC.

Artist Rendering of 34 West 21st Street. Image Credit: LPC.

Majority of commissioners believe that vertically arranged limestone-faced building integrated well into the streetscape. At its meeting on November 1, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered and approved a proposal to construct a new six-story plus penthouse building at 34 West 21st Street  in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. The building will be used as a one-family dwelling. Landmarks approved a proposal for a similarly sized building at the site in 2007, but the project was never realized. Before previously approved construction stalled, a 1950s garage at the lot was demolished. The site is now a vacant lot.The plan was presented by Karl Fischer Architect’s Yvonne Cruz. The building would be faced in limestone, a material common to the district’s historic structures, with metal windows.  The facade material would match one of the adjoining buildings, as would the floor plates in the proposed structure. The building would have painted black metal windows and a small cornice above the sixth floor. Partially visible sidewalls would be clad in brick.

An existing curb cut lies in front of the lot, and the applicants proposed to create a garage at the ground floor. The entrance doors, garage opening, and composition of the ground floor was intended to relate to the district’s historic storefronts.

In the applicants rendering, there would be a “commercial” space on the ground floor, but it would be at the rear of the property without any street presence.

The Historic District Council’s Kelly Carroll testified that single-family homes were “unprecedented” in Ladies’ Mile, and a drive-in ground-floor garage was inappropriate. Carroll suggested that a commercial storefront on the ground floor would help conceal the building’s “unusual identity.” Carroll further noted that the supposed “commercial” at the rear of the property would be unallowable under zoning. Christabel Gough, from the Society for the Architecture of the City, said the building would present an “enigma” to the “ladies” who once shopped on the street and for whom the district was named, and the proposal was “at war with the norms of other designated facades in the district.” Manhattan Community Board 5 recommended approval of the project.

Layout of the Proposed Building. Image Credit: LPC.

Layout of the Proposed Building. Image Credit: LPC.

Commissioner Fred Bland said the design of the building was appropriate for the site, and that New York was full of anomalous buildings, and if the building fit in with the streetscape, “it doesn’t really matter what’s happening behind the walls.” Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron also thought the building was appropriate as proposed, given that its use and garage were legal.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said that while the use of the proposed building might be of great interest from a sociological perspective, its use was irrelevant from historic preservation standpoint. Goldblum further stated that the Landmarks had many times approved of single-family homes masquerading as other types of buildings. Goldblum did think that the proposal needed further refinement. Specifically, the applicants should closely study the district’s historic buildings, and add more texture to the ground floor. Commissioner Diana Chapin agreed that there was an “awkwardness” to the proposed design, and suggested that the applicants work with Landmarks staff to improve it.  Commissioner Devonshire opined that the articulation of the facade above the base required modification.

Chair Srinivasan found enough support among commissioners to call a vote for approval. Commissioners Goldblum and Devonshire dissented.

LPC: 34 West 21st Street, Manhattan (19-2876) (Nov. 1, 2016) (Architect: Karl Fischer Architect).

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

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