Revised hospital plan approved for St.Vincent’s

St.Vincent’s still faces fight over associated residential development. In a March 10, 2009 public meeting, Landmarks voted to grant approval for a new hospital on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The site is currently occupied by the 1963 O’Toole Building, for which Landmarks approved demolition in October of 2008. 5 CityLand 158 (Nov. 15, 2008).

Representatives of St. Vincent’s presented an amended design that considered the criticisms the previous design had provoked at the last hearing. 6 CityLand 10 (Feb. 15, 2009). Architect Ian Bader, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects, explained that the proposed hospital’s height was further reduced to 286 ft., down from 299 ft. at the last proposal and less than the 329 ft. at the original proposal. Bader also stated that the hospital’s “perceived height” would be 278 ft., since mechanical equipment on the roof would not be visible from the street.

Several other alterations were noted aside from the height. The ground floor was modified with larger windows and extended canopies to “deinstitutionalize” the entrance and improve the building’s interaction with the street. The hospital’s podium was brought level with the adjacent building’s street wall height. Projecting sunshades were removed from patients’ windows on the tower and replaced with louvers. Bader also mentioned that an addition, including a public art installation and external staircase, would be constructed on the building that partly occupies the triangle-shaped lot at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street.

In response to Commissioners’ questions, attorney Shelly Friedman testified that, were Landmarks to approve the project, St. Vincent’s would still require approvals for a zoning map amendment, zoning text amendments, and special permits. Rudin Management would also need approval for a planned residential development across Seventh Avenue, currently occupied by St. Vincent’s hospital complex, before the hospital could be built.

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney expressed support for the amended design, and commented on the inherent complications of reconciling the “preservation point of view” with the “societal impact.” Tierney stated that he believed the proposal before the Commission had found the appropriate balance, with “careful, thoughtful architecture,” that added to the collection of contemporary buildings in the area.

Commissioner Christopher Moore reiterated his stance that the preservation of the hospital’s historic mission was the most compelling issue at stake, and that the design was improved and “as appropriate as could be.” Commissioner Diana Chapin stated that she was glad the Commission was able to protect the oldest buildings on the hospital site, including the 1924 Nurses Residence and the 1941 Spellman Building.

Commissioners Margery Perlmutter and Roberta Brandes Gratz strongly opposed the proposal, arguing that St. Vincent’s did not adequately explore the possibility of siting the hospital elsewhere. Gratz claimed that, given the economic downturn, sites were undoubtedly available, and suggested Hudson Yards as a potential location. She added that the loss of O’Toole was both “unnecessary and tragic.” Commissioner Stephen Byrns also opposed, finding the building excessively tall for the district and arguing that the hospital’s chapel, cafeteria, and auditorium could be located in another building or underground.

Landmarks voted to grant St. Vincent’s application by a vote of eight to three. A date has not been set for Commission review of the commercial component.

LPC: 20 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-8617); 76 Greenwich Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-4935) (March 10, 2009).

CITYLAND Comment: On March 9th, preservationists announced that they had filed an article 78 petition seeking to block demolition of the O’Toole Building.

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