Volume 76, Number 49 | May 2 -8, 2007

University fails grade on landmark district plan

By Albert Amateau

New York University’s less-than-total support of the proposed South Village Historic District provoked some bitter words from Village preservation advocates at the Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee meeting last week.

A response by Christine Shakespeare, an N.Y.U. representative who attended the April 24 meeting, did not satisfy most of the audience, who recalled the university’s unqualified support four years ago when the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation first proposed the district.

“N.Y.U. does support a study to consider a South Village Historic District and we would like to be part of the dialogue,” Shakespeare said. “We hope to be part of the Landmarks Preservation process, one that includes a study of the proposal,” she added.

But Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P executive director, noted that a March 9 letter from Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government and community affairs, expressed reservations about the boundaries of the proposed district, which extends south of W. Fourth St. to Houston St. roughly between LaGuardia Place and Seventh Ave. S., with an extension down to Watts St. roughly between W. Broadway and Sixth Ave.

The N.Y.U. letter, which notes that the proposed district contains university property, says the extensive Andrew Dolkart report commissioned by G.V.S.H.P. and submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission does not necessarily make the case for a “single cohesive historic district.”

The letter suggests that other historic districts — the Greenwich Village District and the Charlton King Vandam District — which border on the South Village, and the Soho Cast-Iron District, which lies across W. Broadway from the proposed district, could be expanded and result in a smaller South Village district.

But preservation advocates at the meeting last week insisted on the 40-block district outlined in the Dolkart report.

J. Maury Watts of Jones St. said, “N.Y.U. seems to stand alone against community support for the district.” He recalled old conflicts between preservation advocates and the university and brought up the destruction of the Poe House on W. Third St. five years ago for the building of the new N.Y.U. Law School project.

Stu Waldman said he attended the meeting four years ago when N.Y.U endorsed the boundaries of the proposed 40-block district.

“They can say they changed their mind but to say the want a new study is disingenuous,” Waldman said.

“I appreciate what N.Y.U. has done for the Village,” said Livvie Mann, of the Bedford Downing Block Association. “But I don’t want to live in a university dormitory district. We need to take a stand before all of the South Village is gone.”

Doris Diether, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Landmarks Committee, said the committee would hold another meeting on the South Village Historic District proposal sometime later this month.

Diether this week issued a critique of the proposed boundaries and suggested that the community board include seven blocks that have been left out of the 40-block proposal.

However, Melissa Beldock, G.V.S.H.P staff member in charge of preservation advocacy, said the boundaries of the proposed district came out of consultation with community groups that would be impacted by the district. Blocks omitted from the proposed district are mostly large warehouses and post-war apartment buildings, which are neither endangered nor historic and would weaken the case for landmark designation, Beldock said.

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