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David Chipperfield's Jane Street Building Eviscerated by Angry West Villagers

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Dozens of neighborhood residents spoke out against the building at a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting

Plans to raze a two-story parking garage at 11-19 Jane Street and build a schmancy seven-story apartment building designed by celebrated architect David Chipperfield came in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission today. To the shock and awe of no one, West Village activists showed up en masse to protest the development and use the occasion to testify as a referendum against new development in the Village. After more than 30 speakers and nearly two hours of testimony, the LPC ultimately tabled a vote on the project, with chair Meenakshi Srinivasan saying that the commission needed time to consider and discuss everything they heard.

Plans for a six-story apartment building accompanied by two townhouses at 11-19 Jane Street were filed by developer Minskoff Equities in February. It seems that those plans have since been refined: the townhouses will take form as duplex maisonettes nestled within the development, and the building will rise seven stories, including a recessed penthouse floor and excluding building-topping mechanicals.

What David Chipperfield designed for the site looks strikingly similar to his first New York City apartment building now on the rise, a Bryant Park-adjacent condo unimaginatively named The Bryant. Like The Bryant, the building proposed for 11-19 Jane Street has a honed precast concrete facade. It also has stainless steel-rimmed windows and balustrades that would give the building a particularly edgy look that may appear out-of-place on the traditionally low-slung, historic Jane Street. When asked by the commission why he chose precast concrete when it has no precedent in the neighborhood, Chipperfield responded plainly that it’s a strong facade material.

Testimony against the development came in droves, with NIMBYs speaking against the project’s "inappropriate," "out-of-scale," "travesty" of a design. A resident of 9 Jane Street who’s made his home there for 57 years delivered an impassioned testimony against the building. "Sky and sun will be taken out of my life and absorbed into a building next door," he read from a letter addressed to Minskoff, "Now I will face a concrete shaft … My sun and sky will be repackaged and sold as an amenity."

Another site neighbor proposed a shadow study owing to the tall ceiling heights of the apartments and the reach of the building-topping mechanicals. Ceiling heights in most apartments will measure 12 feet with ceiling heights in the penthouse reaching a whopping 15 feet (those heights were referred to during later testimony as "billionaire heights").

Preservation consultant Greg Dietrich testified that the existing garage at 11-19 Jane Street "represents a unique opportunity for adaptive reuse" while also expressing the vernacular architecture so associated with the West Village. Following in close step, Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation also testified against the development, saying

Finally, we must note the devastating cumulative effect which the loss of buildings like 11 Jane Street has on the scale and quality of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Such buildings have simple but handsome early 20th-century detail and contribute to the sense of place and variegated scale of the Village. Their modest one and two story stature defers to the historic residential and commercial structures around them, allowing them to remain in the foreground. They are part of the quirk, charm, and surprise that one encounters on Village streets; each a little different from the next, but sharing common overall qualities.

Testimony continued with a Real Estate Board of New York member and real estate agent who lives on Jane Street who spoke out against the development, reminding the LPC that their role is to "[protect] the living, breathing Village." Even neighborhood celebs are outraged over the proposition. Speaking on behalf of Village-dwelling celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, and Andy Cohen, fashion designer Peter Som said that "The Village has become less Village-y" (which is only slightly ironic coming in part from SJP.)

Chipperfield eventually responded, saying that he understood the "sentimentality" about the existing garage building. But he also defended what he called the "volumetrics" of the building (e.g., the height), and said that some of the testimony around the building’s full height had been misleading. (As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well with those present.) "I think we’ve been very professional and considerate of the issue" of how the building fits in with the rest of Jane Street, he argued. But no decision was rendered today—we’ll have to wait until it’s on the LPC docket again to find out if this controversial development will pass as is, or if it’ll go back to the drawing board.

To view the full presentation materials, head this way (PDF).