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Historic Gansevoort Street Revamp Advances With LPC Approval

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The south side of the low-slung street will be remade into high-end office and retail space

A low-slung stretch of landmarked Gansevoort Street will begin a new chapter in its history. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved developers William Gottlieb Real Estate and Aurora Capital Partners' proposal to recast the south side of Gansevoort between Greenwich and Washington streets as high-end retail, offices, and eateries. The proposal involves, among other things, beefing up the height of the streetwall, so it was of course met with healthy doses of neighborhood NIMBYism.

It was amid a sea of attendee opposition, and even some inter-commissioner debate, that the committee approved BKSK Architect's proposal. The amended proposal, which first appeared in front of the commission in February, sought to restore the two-story building at 46-48, restore—rather than raze—no. 50, add a three-story addition to the former tenement buildings at 60-68, and raze nos. 70-74 in order to construct a new warehouse-inspired building that will stand 96 feet including its rooftop mechanicals.

The original proposal presented to the LPC in February included plans to raze 50 and 70-74 Gansevoort Street, construct a new 111-foot building at 70-74 Gansevoort Street, and add three- and four-story additions to 60-68 Gansevoort Street. At the time, the commissioners sent BKSK back to the drawing board to adjust building heights and the appearance of several canopies and facades along the block.

The biggest change in the proposal between its first and second appearance in front of the LPC is to the heights of nos. 60-68 and 70-74. In both instances, the commissioners asked the architects to remove the buildings' penthouses and lessen their overall height.

Cas Stachelberg of preservation consulting firm Higgins Quaebarth & Partners made a case on Tuesday for adding several stories to nos. 60-68, now a two-story building, based on the structure's original five-story height (a few stories were lobbed off sometime in the 20th century.) The proposal, which puts the building at nearly 62 feet, drew the most ire from its opponents, who argue that the Department of Buildings only ever allowed buildings to stand as tall as 55 feet on the block.

Just how the commissioners should determine the appropriateness of projects came up several times throughout the meeting. (It's rare, many commissioners noted, for a whole street to come in front of the committee at a time.) "What's our standard for appropriateness?" commissioner Michael Goldblum asked while the LPC offered their feedback, "Is it what existed at some point in the past, or the moment of designation? I think we balance between the two."

Goldblum concluded that he believes the proposal is okay so long as visitors to the street can see the buildings layers and history over time. He believed BKSK's proposal for the five-story tenement at 60-68 particularly achieved that, as did the new building at 70-74, although he was "a little sad we whooped the architecture out of them," referring to its new plain Jane facade.

LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan (who noted that the commission received around 900 emails in opposition to the proposal, as well as testimony in writing from neighborhood organizations including GVSHP and Save Gansevoort) found that BKSK did a great deal of planning, analysis, and study and created a "rationalized approach" to updating the street. "I think in general [the proposal] very much remembers the buildings that were there historically," Srinivasan said of 60-68, before signing off with her approval.

Other commissioners nitpicked at smaller details like the "fussiness" of a terracotta screen system proposed for 60-68. Commissioner Michael Devonshire, the anointed "reactionary preservationist" of the group, said that he thought nos. 60-68 should stand no taller than 55 feet (which elicited audience cheers).

The mood in the room turned quickly around after the LPC approved the proposal. In its wake, advocacy group Save Gansevoort issued the following statement:

We are deeply disappointed in the Landmark Preservation Commission's decision today to accept this massive building plan, disregarding the Gansevoort Market Historic District's designation report and more than 75 years of history. The Commission's ruling will not only destroy the last intact block of one-and two-story, market-style structures in Manhattan, but it is also the latest sign that unrestricted development is killing the unique character of so many of our city's most beautiful neighborhoods. In this day and age, it is disconcerting that even our landmarked areas are no longer protected.

Save Gansevoort will not give up the fight to protect our community. We urge the City Planning Commission and the City Council to block any amendments to the restrictive declaration on these sites that would permit the use of these buildings for office space. Preserving the restrictive declaration would prevent these developers from once again changing existing precedents to fit their bottom line and ensure that we can continue to save the Gansevoort Market Historic District.

For a full look at the presentation materials, head this way (warning: PDF!).