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St. Mark’s air rights deal approved by landmarks commission

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The plan will create a permanent maintenance contract for a nearby landmark

The building proposed for 3 St. Mark’s Place.
Morris Adjmi Architects courtesy of Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Landmarks Preservation Commission reluctantly approved a developer’s plan to enlarge a 10-story East Village office building in order to ensure the preservation of a neighboring landmark through an air rights transfer.

Developer Real Estate Equities Corporation seeks a special permit to purchase some 8,300 square feet of air rights from the landmarked Hamilton-Holly House, which was once home to Alexander Hamilton’s widow and children. The transfer would allow REEC to enlarge the Morris Adjmi-designed office building on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Third Avenue and, in exchange, establish a permanent maintenance contract for the upkeep of the 19th century townhouse across the street.

LPC commissioners had reservations about the proposal, but ultimately relented and gave it the green light to ensure the continued maintenance of the Hamilton-Holly House.

“This is an important building to get right and I think it’s a tradeoff that we’re talking about,” said Frederick Bland, LPC vice chair, during the Tuesday vote. “We’re going to have that building, so let’s have the building with the landmark.”

Commissioners didn’t have say over the design of the building because it isn’t within a historic district; instead, they were tasked with reviewing restoration plans for the landmark and determining how “harmonious” a specific sliver of the new building created out of the air rights exchange is with the Hamilton-Holly House.

If the commission rejected the plan, the building would still rise, but without the extra square footage from the air rights deal. It’s better to approve plans that will enhance the building’s size slightly than to miss out on a legally-binding opportunity to preserve a landmark, said Sarah Carroll, the chair of LPC.

“I think we get a lot for the landmark here. The piece that is required to have that harmonious relationship almost has no relationship,” said Carroll, noting that the buildings are across the street from one another and mostly cannot be seen together. “In some ways, I think it’s that there’s not a bad relationship because it almost has no relationship, and in exchange we get a restoration.”

In anticipation of the deal, REEC has worked with the owner of the Hamilton-Holly House for the last few years to overhaul and restore the Federal style-building. Some $500,000 has been poured into helping the owner achieve “sound first-class condition,” which is beyond landmark standards.

With the air rights transfer, five percent of the $4 million sale will be placed in a dedicated account for the landmark to maintain that condition. Its owner, and all future owners, would enter into a maintenance contract permanently bound to the property. If that fund dries up the city would still require the owner to restore the building, and hit the landlord with fines.

The developer presented its plans to LPC in April, but was asked to return with a slightly reconfigured design. Now, the building’s first setback at 63 feet will be recessed by eight feet instead of four. The project’s architect, Morris Adjmi, maintained that the development team believes the original proposal was a “better solution” that was “more harmonious with the landmark.”

Now that LPC has lent its support to the plan, the commission will issue a report to the City Planning Commission to allow the proposal under a specific zoning resolution.