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St. Mark’s Place air rights deal panned by preservationists

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A developer aims to use air rights from the landmarked Hamilton-Holly House to erect a new office building

The Hamilton-Holly House at 4 St. Mark’s Place near Third Avenue in the East Village.
Nicholas Strini/PropertyShark

A Manhattan Community Board 3 committee rejected a developer’s plans for a special permit to buy air rights from the landmarked Hamilton-Holly House to erect a glassy, 10-story office building on historic St. Mark’s Place.

Real Estate Equities Corporation (REEC) aims to raze a handful of properties on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Third Avenue to build a Morris Adjmi-designed office building. In order to beef up the structure’s scale, REEC wants a special permit so they may transfer 8,386 square feet of air rights from the landmarked Hamilton-Holly House across the street in a $4 million deal. In exchange, five percent of the sale would be set aside toward continued restoration of the landmark and its owner would enter into a maintenance contract that would be permanently bound to the property, according to REEC’s land use counsel.

A key step in that process is for the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to issue a report to the City Planning Commission (CPC) to allow the development under a specific zoning resolution. Next, REEC would request a special permit from the planning commission and then head into the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). But Community Board 3’s landmarks committee threw an early wrench into that plan Wednesday by advising against landmarks officials issuing the report to the CPC.

“I think a number of us are concerned. This is the entrance of St. Mark’s place which is a really historic street in our neighborhood,” said Carolyn Ratcliffe, a member of the board’s landmarks committee, who noted a 19th century apartment building will be demolished and small businesses booted to make way for the new office building. “It’s about how we feel about that street and the entrance to that street and it’s like having the whole corner turned into a modern glass [building].”

The proposed brick building would feature large metal windows that wrap around the corner of St. Mark’s Place. Under the plan, it would boast just over 50,000 square feet with the extra air rights. But even without the additional space the building would still loom over the tenement buildings of St. Mark’s Place with just under 42,000 square feet, according to the architect behind the plans, Morris Adjmi. REEC is also requesting bulk waivers to build the property’s first setback to line up with other buildings on St. Mark’s Place at 63 feet.

Several irate preservationists and locals panned the deal at Wednesday’s landmarks committee meeting and called the office building “disconcerting,” “awful,” and “worrying” with how it relates to the character of the East Village. Richard Mosses, with the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, said the building “doesn’t respond to the spirit of St. Mark’s Place” while Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, believes the air rights deal “is not worthwhile.”

“The reason why we’re so concerned about this is because we don’t think a big office building on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Third Avenue is appropriate,” Berman told the landmarks committee. “This [air rights deal] will make it 20 percent bigger. I wish we could make it go away altogether.”

Others decried the modern office building as a blatant affront to the historic neighborhood and said it added insult to injury that REEC is seeking square footage beyond what it could build as of right.

“I’m just asking [you] take a second to think about the rest of us who have to look at that building every day, who have to be reminded that our neighborhood is deteriorating,” Emma Eriksson, 30, a life-long resident of East 9th Street said Wednesday. “I think it’s horrible that you would just ask for more. You don’t need it.”

But REEC pushed back and said neighborhood advocates are being shortsighted about the deal’s implication’s for the Hamilton-Holly House.

“People are talking about preserving the neighborhood and the way it feels but they’re not thinking about the long-term benefits of the preservation of 4 St. Mark’s (the Hamilton-Holly House) going forward simply because people are upset that there might be a building on the corner seems out of spite to want to hurt the individual landmark building,” said Brandon Miller, a managing partner at REEC.

In anticipation of the deal, REEC has worked with the owner of the Hamilton-Holly House, Liberty Place Property Management, for the last few years to overhaul and restore the Federal style-building that famously housed Col. Alexander Hamilton, Jr. and Eliza Hamilton Holly—Alexander Hamilton’s children. REEC has poured some $500,000 into helping the owner achieve “sound first class condition,” which is beyond landmark standards.

Under the deal, Liberty Place Property Management would enter into what is known as a restrictive declaration that would require an architect to inspect the building every seven years and issue a report to LPC. If any work is needed to bring the building back to peek condition, the owner is obligated to do so. That five percent of the air rights sale—$200,000—would be used to renovate the property, but even if that fund dries up the landlord must restore the building or face city penalties.

The landmarks committee vote will go to the full board on February 26. Community Board 3 is an advisory panel and their vote is non-binding. Ultimately, it will fall to LPC to decide whether or not to issue a report. But before that can happen, a proposal needs to come before the commission for review at a public hearing, said Zodet Negrón, a LPC spokesperson. That hearing date has yet to be scheduled.