Another Landmarks Preservation Committee meeting, another throng of angry and concerned citizens rallying against a megamansion. This go-around, the contingent of attendees showed up to protest the megamansion proposed for 85-89 Jane Street in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
The work of Steven Harris Architects, and the alleged commission of billionaire Jon Stryker, the proposal was not only railed against by the meeting’s audience, but also largely panned by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. After a lengthy discussion about building height and a series of impassioned pleas from attendees against the project, the commission decided to take no action on the proposal. A redesigned proposal will appear in front of the LPC again at a later date.
The proposal for the 12,000-square-foot home nestled between Greenwich and Washington streets, presented by Steven Harris himself, would transform the historic garage at No. 89 and the former Steinway showroom at No. 85 into 110 feet of continuous facade along Jane Street.
Behind that facade would be a three-bedroom house with a basement gym topped by lush gardens planted with "legitimate, honest to God trees" and shrubbery. (Harris, at one point, noted that the rooftop landscape would require 1 million pounds of dirt to be trucked to the house, to which one attendee told Harris during testimony that he didn’t "get credit" for bringing in that much soil.)
Harris emphasized his firm’s nod to history by pointing out that, with much of the house’s design, they tried to take into account the industrial commercial heritage of the street. That heritage is theoretically reflected in the proposal’s large wall of translucent, glazed windows above the original garage at 89 Jane, and the structure’s restored brick facade.
The main point of concern for the committee and attendees alike were the proposal’s "panopticon"-style elevations that would rise to 90 feet on the western side of the property. While one would contain a stairwell and elevator, the other would contain a study and dual-height library surrounded by matte non-reflective etch glass. In Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron’s words, the tower, "pumped with program," loses site of the precedent the rest of the project tries to set regarding the area’s history.
Harris was quick to point out that while the site could accommodate much more density, that’s not the path the firm took. Instead, for Harris, the proposal rallies against properties being built up to their maximum square footage and allowable height. Under the current design, just five percent of the property would reach over 42 feet in height.
But that argument wasn’t winning folks over. During public testimony, one resident of nearby Horatio street candidly told the LPC that she initially thought the towers were mere "bargaining chips" in the design that the architect would be willing to trash for approval, but wasn’t so sure about that after the presentation. Zack Winestine, co-chair of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, called the historic justification for the proposal an "insult to the community and an insult to the commission."
LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan agreed democratically, saying that all the architect’s ideas of reflecting the street’s and neighborhood’s history in the building were not actually discernible in its design. Commissioner Michael Devonshire said that the design is "absolutely nothing that improves this district." Commissioner John Gustafsson said he thought the house was cool and something he’d like to live in, but if he wanted to live in it he’d never find it on Jane Street.
Srinivasan declared no action after noting that she thought if the design were rejiggered to get rid of the towers and include elements like setbacks, the proposal could feasibly be approved in the future.
The plan appeared in front of Community Board 2 in May, where it also won few supporters.