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From Gas Station to Glass Station at Houston and Lafayette

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One of SoHo's most visible intersections will get a gleaming new building, if owner Marcello Porcelli's plans to transform the Lafayette lot long home to a gas station into 60,000 square feet of office and retail space make it through the city's various channels for approval. The businessman unveiled the long-anticipated plans for 300 Lafayette Street, at the hot corner at Houston Street on top of the Broadway-Lafayette subway station, to Community Board 2 last night. Porcelli's family has owned the lot since 1976, when they bought it for the price of a cup of coffee $100,000, and developed the iconic Gaseteria chain that would anchor the spot until 2003, when British Petroleum took over, holding regular court for cabbies.

The new building?check it out in the renderings above?is what architect Rick Cook of Cookfox Architects (also the designer of One Bryant Park) calls "biophilic design?.people feel good when connected to nature." The nature, in this case, will be plants indigenous to New York City before it was a city, planted on the building's balconies.

Of course, the sleek and very modern glass building is not exactly in the character of the extended SoHo Cast Iron historic district, and residents in attendance said so. "I'd prefer a two story building, not a seven story monstrosity," said a well-dressed gentleman, who assured us he was a resident of the area (and introduced himself to the board that way) but refused to divulge his name. "It's a shame to block off the view of the Puck Building."

To build his new structure, Porcelli plans to demolish the buildings on two adjacent lots—fare thee well, honest Puck Fair—ridding the immediate area of both some open space, and open walls and advertisements. The developer was coy about the identity of prospective retail tenants. And before Porcelli can break ground on this current plan, he needs some quick "acts," from the city, in the parlance of his lawyer, Elise Wagner, for the building in the M1-5B zone:

1) A special permit to allow retail in the lower level of the building, which would take up no more than the first two floors and 30,000 square feet.
2) A height setback waiver, to allow the building to reach 91 feet —six feet above what would be permitted.
3) Another permit to allow a broader range of retail.

?The presentation of the project won unanimous though symbolic approval from Community Board 2's landmarks committee last night, and will face its truest test at Landmarks Preservation Commission's hearing on April 9, and from there, on to the Department of City Planning. The special permitting process might bring it back to the community board's land use committee sometime in the spring. The presentation also made clear that developers could build a much taller building as of right—Porcelli's team presented a full-rendering of this non-proposal for the board—but that attempt at deference to the neighborhood and the Puck Building didn't stop some neighbors from wishing to keep the gas station. "They did a reasonable job," said Sante Scardillo, a resident of Elizabeth Street near Houston Street and a member of the Little Italy Neighborhood Association. "But I'd rather have the gas station and open space."
?Eli Rosenberg
· From Fill-'Er-Up to Flagship at Houston and Lafayette [Curbed]