Volume 75, Number 6 | June 29 - July 5, 2005

A computer rendering by Hudson Companies of its possible design for a new building on the former St. Ann’s Church site on E. 12th St., with the church’s remaining north facade and tower incorporated into the design.
Neighbors pray St. Ann’s developer will downscale project

By Albert Amateau

East Village residents and neighborhood preservation advocates fear that a 26-story residential tower or hotel on the site of the former St. Ann’s Church would overwhelm the low-rise neighborhood.

The neighbors received some support at a June 15 meeting when the Community Board 3 Zoning Committee agreed to ask the Department of Buildings to hold off on issuing a building permit until D.O.B. was sure the developer complied with any required reviews of a project that involved the transfer of air rights from the Cooper Station Post Office on Fourth Ave. and E. 11th St. to the old St. Ann’s site at 124 E. 12th St.

Elizabeth Langwith, who led a delegation of a dozen residents of the nearby co-op at 125 E. 12th St. at the June 15 meeting, said, “The height and scale is out of context and totally inappropriate to the neighborhood.” Webster Hall, the nightlife venue, is around the corner on E. 11th St., Langwith noted. “We don’t need anything else that would increase traffic on the narrow E. 12th St.,” she said.

The property owner, Hudson Companies, acquired the church from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York more than a year ago for $15 million and demolished all but the tower and north facade of the church after pleas by preservation advocates to keep a remnant of the 1847 building.

David Kramer, a principal in Hudson Companies said on June 11 that the company hadn’t yet determined the use or size of the project. Whether it will be a 20-, 24- or 26-story building depends on whether it is a residential, hotel or community-facility project, he said.

Moreover, Hudson Companies is also unsure if current zoning would allow the church facade and tower to be incorporated into the new building. But Kramer insisted the project would be as of right and would follow existing zoning without any variance or special permit. He said the company, in general, doesn’t like to do variances because of the cost and expense.

Kramer said Hudson Companies originally responded two years ago to a U.S. Postal Service request for proposals to build on top of the Cooper Station Post Office at the corner of Fourth Ave. and E. 11th St. But the company found the R.F.P requirement that 24-hour postal service continue during construction to be impractical. As an alternative, the company offered to buy the development rights from the post office and transfer them to the adjacent St. Ann’s site, which the Catholic Archdiocese had put on the market.

Hudson Companies bought 61,000 square feet of post office development rights and the transfer to the adjacent St. Ann’s site to the north gives the company a 170,000-square-foot building.

However, Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, questioned the validity of the process. Although St. Ann’s was never designated as a city landmark, the Cooper Station Post Office is on the National Register of Historic Places, he said.

“Some level of review was required and didn’t take place,” Berman told the June 15 C.B. 3 Zoning Committee. Complicating the issue is the fact that the post office was built on land owned by New York State.

Gregory Bender, an aide to Assemblymember Deborah Glick, said Glick’s office would look into whether the federal government’s ground lease from the state permits the sale and transfer of development rights.

But Kramer said earlier that Postal Service real estate experts had reviewed the ground lease and had declared the deal to be valid.

Neighbors are grateful, however, that the church tower is still standing and they still hope it will become part of a scaled-down project.

“The only thing that keeps the tower up is the owner’s good graces,” said Leo Blackman, an architect and neighborhood resident, at the June 15 meeting. He noted that an open demolition permit was still in effect on the St. Ann’s site.

Kramer said they might not be able to keep the church tower if doing so violates requirements for setbacks from the property line.

Since it was first built in 1847 as the 12th St. Baptist Church, the site has gone through Protestant, Jewish and Catholic transformations. Temple Emmanuel, the Reform Jewish congregation now on Fifth Ave. at 63rd St., acquired the building in 1856 and remained there until 1870.

The Catholic parish of St. Ann’s moved from Astor Pl. to the E. 12th St. building, and later demolished the interior and rebuilt it in the French gothic style to a design by Napoleon LeBrun. Over the years, the parishioners included such luminaries as Alfred E. Smith, who became governor of New York State and ran for president in 1928, and Peter Maurin, co-founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker.

After the sale to Hudson Companies, the archdiocese removed the carved white marble altarpieces, the statuary and the organ built in 1864 by Henry Erban, to a diocesan warehouse in Staten Island.

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