Previously Approved Building Plan Reduced in Height from Five to Four Stories

Landmarks approved application for five story building at site of existing garage in 2013; applicants sought to amend permit to reduce height while retaining approved design. On June 24, 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved an application to amend a certificate of appropriateness for a planned new building at 151 Mercer Street in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. According to the Real Deal, the new building will serve as a flagship store for fashion retailer Tory Burch.

Landmarks initially approved the building after a hearing in November 2013, when the applicants first presented the building as a five-story structure. The plan presented was not intended to serve as a “branded building” but as something that would be appropriate to its specific location, according to Architect Steven O’Neil, of O’Neil Langan Architects. The building will be faced in weathered steel with orange and black shades, which O’Neil said would convey the visual effect of brick, “without being brick.” Mimicking the arrangement of historic store-and-loft buildings, the floor heights would get smaller from bottom to top, and the facade will be divided into a base, middle, and cornice. Windows will be set back two feet from the streetwall, creating depth and shadow on the facade similar to that of cast iron buildings. Manually operated metal shutters will be placed outside the windows, giving the facade a “theatrical element.” As initially proposed, the building would possess fabric awnings displaying the retailer’s logo.

Consultant Cas Stachelberg of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners testified that the one-story garage building standing on the site did not contribute to the district, and bore no relationship to the 19th-century development history of SoHo. Stachelberg said the planned building was intended to be a “good neighbor,” melding into the streetscape and enhancing its surroundings.

At the 2013 meeting, the proposal met with support from Historic Districts Council. Manhattan Community Board 2 also recommended approval of the project via letter.

Commissioner Fred Bland urged approval, finding the proposal successfully derived its design from the district and neighborhood without “aping the context.” Bland commented, however, that the awnings should be altered, saying they were “too Rodeo Drive” as presented. Commissioner Joan Gerner agreed that the proposal effectively evoked cast-iron architecture in contemporary form. Commissioner Christopher Moore also asked the applicants to reconsider the awnings. The Commission voted to award the project a certificate of appropriateness, in which they asked the applicants to work with Landmarks staff in modifying the awning design.

When the applicants returned to Landmarks in 2014, Steven O’Neil testified that the modified plan would retain the design and arrangement of the approved proposal, though reducing its height from 79 to 65 feet. The four-story building would retain the same facade materials, set-back windows, and manually operated shutters, while removing one of the floors from the middle section. The awnings were revised from the initial proposal. Cas Stachelberg claimed that the street on which the building site was located possessed a variety of scales, and could easily accommodate the lower building.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum characterized approval of the modification as “a slam dunk,” saying four stories were certainly appropriate for the site if five were. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter found the building’s massing to fit in well with the multiple scales represented on the block, and said the design “completely speaks” to the surrounding streetscape. Commissioner Bland commented that the approved design was “quite adaptable,” and did not require significant rethinking for the reduction in height.

LPC: 151 Mercer Street, Manhattan (15-7979) (June 24, 2014) (Architect: Langan O’Neil Architects).

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


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