St.Vincent’s presents revised proposal

Hospital claims hardship if prohibited from demolishing Seventh Avenue building. On June 3, 2008, Saint Vincent’s Hospital and Rudin Development returned to Landmarks with a revised plan for its controversial hospital expansion and residential development proposed for the Greenwich Village Historic District. Landmarks denied the initial plan, which included the demolition of nine buildings within the historic district and construction of two large towers – a 265-foot residential tower and a 329-foot hospital tower – after the proposal faced significant opposition from the community and elected officials. 5 CityLand 61 (May 15, 2008).

Within days of the denial, Saint Vincent’s filed a hardship application, a step permitted when an applicant believes that the landmark’s maintenance will prevent it from realizing a reasonable return. The hardship application claimed that operation of the hospital required the complete demolition of the O’Toole Building, the 1964 former Maritime Union structure located on Seventh Avenue between West 12th and West 13th Streets. It then submitted a revised development plan that would reduce the size of the two proposed towers and proposed to demolish only four buildings rather than nine.

Landmarks set a hearing on the revised design with the hardship application still pending. At the hearing, Saint Vincent’s attorney, Shelly Friedman, outlined the case for hardship, stating that a new hospital was necessary for Saint Vincent’s to continue operation and the O’Toole site presented the only feasible location. Health care experts testified that State oversight mandated maximum efficiency, and that anything other than a “single building solution” was unlikely to meet approval. A representative from Ballinger Architects testified that the current complex was heavily redundant, with 23 elevators, 19 staircases, and embedded exterior walls rendering only 48 percent of the space usable. Structural engineer Anya Brazil testified that it was infeasible to retain the O’Toole Building’s facade, partially because of the shallow foundation and cantilevered facade.

Architects from Pei Cobb Freed presented the smaller hospital design for the O’Toole site, outlining a plan to reduce the height by 30 feet, add an additional story to the hospital’s base, and include four hospital floors below-grade. The revised residential development plan, presented by architect Dan Kaplan from FXFowle, called for a 30-foot reduction in the height and a 60-foot reduction in the width of the new residential tower, which was a point of much contention in the previous proposal. The revised plan included the residential conversion of several of the hospital buildings, rather than their demolition, including the 1924 Nurse’s Residence and the 1941 Spellman Building. In addition, four uniform, modern buildings replaced the original proposal for 19 faux-Federal-style townhouses along West 11th and West 12th Streets.

The presentation included an agreement by Rudin to fund the creation of a 560-seat elementary school in the Village. The new proposal drew a mixed response from the community, elected officials, and preservationists with several objecting to the fact that Landmarks scheduled the hearing on the new plan prior to making a decision on the hardship issue.

Representatives from Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer both withheld explicit endorsement, but viewed the revised design as progress for the community. Ken Lustbader of the New York Landmarks Conservancy tentatively approved of the project, noting that O’Toole was not integral to the initial designation and adding that Saint Vincent’s made a “compelling case” for a new hospital. The Municipal Art Society’s Lisa Kersavage found that the materials and design were generally appropriate, but that the proposal needed further integration. The Historic District Council’s Simeon Bankoff took issue with the hardship representation, claiming that since St. Vincent’s acquired O’Toole after the district was landmarked, there was no issue of unconstitutional taking, and that the application’s approval would set a dangerous precedent.

Area resident Gil Horowitz, who opposed the initial plan, testified that it came close to responding to the community’s wishes, with the preservation of significant buildings, the reduction in the residential tower’s size, and the construction of a new school.

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the hearing without commissioner comments or a vote.

LPC: 20 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-8617); 1 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-4934); 76 Greenwich Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-4935) (June 3, 2008).

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