Volume 76, Number 52 | May 23 -29, 2007

A rendering of the new 75-foot-tall building the General Theological Seminary is proposing at Ninth Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts.

Height’s O.K., but seminary opponents say glass is vanity

By Albert Amateau

Chelsea residents who came to look at the General Theological Seminary’s revised plans for its new buildings on May 17 were predictably grateful that the proposed residential project and library on Ninth Ave. has been reduced to the 75-foot height allowed in the Chelsea Historic District.

But preservation-minded residents were displeased that glass would be a prominent feature of the facade of the residential building on Ninth Ave. They were also distressed that the Ninth Ave. entrance, now the front door of the seminary campus, would be replaced with an entrance that would only serve the residential project.

The revised project is to include a new library for the seminary — featuring a collection of historic volumes — on the north corner of Ninth Ave. wrapping around 21st St., and the residential entrance would be located between the condo and the library.

The revised project also calls for a five-story building on the site of a tennis court on the 20th St. side of the campus, for seminary administrative offices. The new main entrance to the campus would be at 20th St. and would form a glass-enclosed atrium between the new administrative building and a 19th-century building to the east. The plans call for uncovering part of the foundation wall of the old building, which would form one side of the atrium.

Hilda Regier, a longtime Chelsea resident, was anxious about uncovering any part of the foundation wall of the old building and found fault with an entrance that includes a glass-enclosed atrium.

“It is not contextual and doesn’t belong,” she said. Regier also suggested that the proposed flat roof of the 20th St. administrative building be changed to a pitched roof to be more in keeping with the 19th-century character of the campus. “Pitched roofs are easier to maintain,” she added.

The access to a proposed 35-car underground garage would also be on 20th St. near Ninth Ave.

“That’s an awful lot of activity on 20th St.,” said Frances Gaar, a resident of the block. “The whole character of the street will change with constant traffic going in and out of 20th St.,” Gaar said.

Leslie Doyel remarked that the garage entrance would be just across from the house she owns at 404 W. 20th St., the oldest house in the Chelsea Historic District.

The seminary engaged The Brodsky Organization as a development partner in 2005 to replace the four-story Sherrill Hall, badly deteriorated since it was built 40 years ago, with a mixed-use 17-story building that would include about 83 residential condos. The planned tower would have earned the seminary $15 million to be used to restore the historic old buildings in the square block between Ninth and 10th Aves. and 20th and 21st Sts. known as The Close.

Opposition by neighbors prompted a revised plan for a 15-story building, still about double the allowable height under current zoning, but the opposition persisted. The proposed development on the tennis court helped reduce the height of the Ninth Ave. building.

Steve Lefkowitz, land use attorney for the project, noted last week that the seminary reduced the height of the project to 75 feet — about seven stories — to conform with zoning to avoid the expense of further delay in the project.

But Maureen Burnley, seminary vice president for development, said at the May 17 meeting that the as-of-right project currently on the table, with about 57 condo units, would not fund all the restoration that the seminary requires to remain in Chelsea.

Nevertheless, the project, which as originally planned would have required an extensive City Planning Commission review, as well as Landmarks Preservation Commission approval, will now require only certification by the Landmarks Preservation Commission that it is appropriate for the Chelsea Historic District.

The Community Board 4 Landmarks Preservation Committee voted last week to condition any recommendation on further consideration of the project’s details, including the use of glass and the change in the entrance from Ninth Ave. to 20th St.

The full board, whose recommendations are strictly advisory but often influential on land use matters, could vote on the project at its June 6 meeting.


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