Volume 74, Number 52 | May 04 - 10 , 2005

The warehouse at 303 W. 10th St. is slated to become a 17-story condo complex.

Charles St. developer says he won’t go for the max

By Lincoln Anderson

West Village antidevelopment watchdogs are keeping anxious watch on two building sites — one of which is being dubbed a potential “neutron bomb” that if developed with a huge tower, could explode the neighborhood’s historic fabric.

The two sites are the Perry Garage, just east of the middle tower of the three new Richard Meier-designed towers on the waterfront, and, a few blocks to the south, the Whitehall Storage warehouse, midblock between West and Washington Sts. between Charles and 10th Sts.

Parkers at the Perry Garage were recently notified it would close in two months, then the closing date was pushed up to last Saturday, when the garage was emptied of cars. The owners of the seven-story building, reportedly a former horse stable, are Richard Born and Ira Drukier — who developed the first two Meier condo towers — along with other investors.

Meanwhile, the four-story Whitehall warehouse was purchased a year ago by the Witkoff Group and Lehman Brothers. The team of Witkoff and Cipriani was recently designated the development team for Pier 57 at 15th St. in the Hudson River Park.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said both sites are on the society’s watch list, which they monitor for any development activity. The warehouse could be a “neutron bomb” if developed to the full 32 stories, he warned.

“It’s a huge site,” agreed Zack Winestine, co-chairperson of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force. “Everywhere you look there’s a soft site that could blow up into development.”

However, Born said nothing’s final on the garage’s future.

“We have no definitive plans to do anything there,” he said. “We’ve been contemplating closing the garage for development and the reason it’s closed is because the elevator broke.”

Born said the building, which they bought five years ago, is basically built to its maximum allowable floor-to-area ratio. The site’s zoning allows residential use as of right, he noted.

However, a local real estate source reports that air rights from the adjacent three-story townhouse at 164 Perry St. were recently sold, raising the likelihood Born and Drukier are planning to add floors above the garage.

Berman noted that the building’s facade has few windows, so there’s a concern adding new windows might not be done in a historically sensitive way.

Meanwhile, Steve Witkoff, head of the Witkoff Group, said he’s very aware of the community’s feelings about overdevelopment and will purposefully not build a tall tower at the Whitehall warehouse site, which allows residential use as of right.

“We are very familiar with the community,” said Witkoff, noting that “the first thing they did” after buying the building was, nine months ago, to meet with a group representing the community, including Berman. “We said we had no intention of building that site anywhere close to the maximum height that would be allowable,” he said, “that we want to come in here and have people say, ‘Here’s a developer that is doing something contextual.’ ”

If the warehouse were demolished and a new tower constructed on a smaller footprint, it could be up to 32 stories, Witkoff confirmed. But they plan to keep the existing building as a base and add on top of it to a height of 17 stories with a number of setbacks, with most of the design set back from the river, and with an interior courtyard. The building will be from 250,000 to 290,000 sq. ft.

They hired Rick Cook from Cook & Fox as the project’s architect, who Witkoff said is “contextually sensitive.” If the old warehouse can’t support the new structure, they would demolish it and construct something just like it, Witkoff said. It will be an energy-efficient green building, as well, he noted. They will be using the preservation firm Higgins & Quasebarth as historical consultants on making the building contextual with the historic neighborhood.

Witkoff said they’re sensitive to trying not to have the building throw large shadows onto the neighborhood or impede views.

“Most developers would want to build to 32 floors,” he said. “And we knew that we couldn’t build to 32 stories without creating a firestorm.”

Witkoff said Cook “photographed every building in the neighborhood” to understand the local architecture and has even found design inspiration in the “breather towers” for the Holland Tunnel in the Hudson River.

Witkoff owns the Woolworth Building and is converting its tower to residential units. He has converted 10 Hanover Sq. to rental units and is converting the Regency Hotel at 55 Wall St. to condos.

He added he knows Gansevoort preservation activists Jo Hamilton and Florent Morellet from when he was being asked to possibly be involved in the effort to relocate the Flower Market to the Meat Market. And he says he personally spent “300 hours” in community meetings during the Pier 57 bid process.

“A year ago we tried to put forth something before there was any pressure for rezoning [the Far West Village], because that’s the way we operate,” Witkoff noted of the Whitehall site. “We’re going to be a developer that listens very, very carefully.”

Berman said Witkoff had not spoken to him yet about the size and actual design of the building.

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