The Landmarks Preservation Commission heard the proposed nine-story hotel adjacent to the Merchant's House located at 27 East 4th Street yesterday afternoon...and on into evening. The developer gave a quick and relatively vague presentation about the project, and neglected to mention the use "hotel" once. Deliberate? Developers appeared unfazed during nearly two hours of testimony from political representatives, local residents, lawyers, engineers and museum employees who were offended at the idea of a hotel next to their beloved townhouse. Standing room only would be a generous term to describe the overflow of pro-Merchant's House-ers crunched into the hearing room. Of course, anti-development stickers were a fashion must-have.
The Merchant's House was the sixth landmark designated in 1965, when LPC was first created. Docents of the museum, area residents, members of various city preservation committees and others read their at times emotional (tear count: 7) testimonies against the proposed hotel, which will offer 32 rooms. Developers sat cell phones in hand and appeared Fruit Ninja-engaged.
While the actual design of the building is line with the others in the area, the issue at hand is the structural damage that the Merchant's House is vulnerable to during construction. Although the project's architects and structural engineer discussed the precautions they promise to take, as well as the seismographs that will monitor any building movement, opponents weren't calmed.
What do those opponents want? Ideally they don't want anything built at all, although all were in favor of demolishing the eyesore one-story garage that currently stands.
Compromises would include: a building no taller than three-and-a-half stories (to match the Merchant's House), funding for the temporary relocation of fragile artifacts located inside the museum during construction, and the developers' coverage of the cost of fixing any loose nails that are the result of construction. Pi Gardiner, the museum's executive director, urged commissioners to consider that the museum experience begins when someone walks onto the street, and this hotel will detract from that experience. And apparently visitors from New Zealand come all the way to visit the house, so we wouldn't want it to crumble down and disappoint the visitors from down under.
An East Village lot with a dumpy garage is a ticking clock, and there seems to be a general understanding that, duh, a developer was going to snatch it up eventually. That said, friends of the museum, and preservation-minded New Yorkers pleaded with the LPC commissioners, and the developers, to consider the historical significance, as well as the mess (figuratively and literally) that they'll have to clean up if a screw comes loose. LPC closed the hearing, and will hold a second round of review in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
· 27 East 4th Street coverage [Curbed]