Volume 77 / Number 34 Jan. 23 - 29, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Damns Reverend Billy’s gospel

To The Editor:
Re “Trying to find a new formula to tame the spread of chains” (news article, Jan. 2):

Reverend Billy and supporters of the East Village Community Coalition are the direct inheritors from the Luddites of the past.

Who are they to decide where and how we shop? Why should anyone have to shop at a Wal-Mart 50 miles away in order to save money? All of the large chains grew from one store. Their owners worked, gambled and struggled to grow.

Competition, mass production and free-market enterprise have raised the standard of living throughout the entire world, with the U.S. leading the pack. When did the Chinese or Indian masses even dream of owning cars or even having two shirts?

When McCormick invented his farm machines, he couldn’t sell them. They were too costly — but he came up with the idea of selling them on time payments. Farmers could now buy them for a little down and pay them off with the products they could now grow efficiently and cheaper. Food got cheaper, and everyone, including the poor and immigrants, could afford to eat well. We are the first nation where a farmer grew enough to feed his family and had enough to sell to others and feed the nation.

Reverend Billy and his supporters would have stopped Ford from making a car that sold for only a few hundred dollars because agencies down the street had to sell theirs for several thousand and they might be driven out of business.

This group, no doubt, includes people who want to restrict buying produce to locally grown food. Now there’s an idea. Want to travel to Florida to get an orange or Texas to get a steak?

Research shows that the best place to locate a coffee shop is as close to Starbucks as possible.

If I want a custom shirt, I don’t go to Filene’s. E.V.C.C.’s Dominique Camacho will always have that sort of customer at her Avenue A T-shirt shop.

Make no mistake: What is being offered by Reverend Billy and his supporters is pure socialist rot and, as I recall, we won that one. It was in all the newspapers. (Well, maybe not The Villager).

Arthur Harris

St. Vincent’s diagnosis

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s gets operating; Plans are filed at Landmarks” (news article, Jan. 9):

St. Vincent’s/Rudin have filed their plans with Landmarks without addressing the concerns expressed to them by the Community Working Group that they constituted to provide them input from their neighbors. Now that the public process has begun, we must once and for all shift the discussion from “we are a vital service provider and need to build a modern, 21st-century, green hospital to serve the growing needs of the community” to “how can we meet the needs of the hospital and at the same time respect the contextual fabric of the Greenwich Village Historic District?” We are all in agreement that St. Vincent’s provides an essential service and sorely needs to modernize. Further discussion of that point obscures the real issue before us.

The real dialogue needs to finally focus on how best to modernize St. Vincent’s in a manner that respects the desires of the community and in keeping with the origin and protection intended by the creation of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

The local community board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission must surely see that the overall project is much too high and much too dense for the community in which it is proposed. The size and scale is being driven simply by financial considerations that are unfortunately a direct result of the hospital’s past fiscal management and the hospital’s need to adopt a plan to allow it to survive once out of bankruptcy. The community is being asked to pay too dear a price to restore St. Vincent’s financial health.

The bigger the zoning waiver, the more Rudin must pay St. Vincent’s for the hospital’s existing campus. Absent that, we would not be discussing the large, out-of-scale building Rudin proposes for Seventh Ave.; the low-rise brownstones Rudin proposes on 11th and 12th Sts. should not be allowed to obscure that harsh reality. Furthermore, if St. Vincent’s retained and adapted the historic buildings on its current site, the hospital’s need to build so high on its O’Toole site would be eliminated. This is the essence of the discussion we must have in order to reach an all-around good result.

The threshold issues in the regulatory process are as follows:

• Justification for allowing the historic buildings on St. Vincent’s current campus to be demolished to make room for a “for profit” luxury housing development.

• The precedent-setting impact of such a decision on the Greenwich Village Historic District and all other historic districts.

• Whether the zoning waiver rightfully previously granted to St. Vincent’s in its role as a community service provider can be freely transferred to a private developer who stands to make a fortune in the process.

• Whether the combined density, both east and west of Seventh Ave., should be allowed to increase over its already overbuilt scale (i.e. the discussion of the density of each separate site is highly misleading).

• Whether the existing nearby buildings along Seventh Ave. (Coleman included), all built before the creation of the historic district, set the high watermark for the height and bulk of any new building proposed for the area.

• The impact such a large-scale development would have on infrastructure and community services already stretched past their limit.

It seems to many of us in the community, that these are the issues that must be addressed before we can even get to design approval.

David R. Marcus

Can still heal the rift

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s gets operating; Plans are filed at Landmarks” (news article, Jan. 9):

Did St. Vincent’s and Rudin really think that our community would embrace a plan that runs roughshod over landmarked buildings, historic districts and the quality of life that our community values so highly? I urge St. Vincent’s/Rudin to give the Community Alternative Plan their fullest consideration. Through compromise, we may all benefit from this project.

Arlene Martin

Cost to Village is too high

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s gets operating; Plans are filed at Landmarks” (news article, Jan. 9):

In general, Albert Amateau’s article on the St. Vincent’s/Rudin proposal presents an excellent overall view of the issues confronting Greenwich Village. One point, however, needs reinforcement. Midway through the article, Amateau mentions that the proposed new hospital building will be 327 feet tall and the proposed new apartment building will be 265 feet tall. He also notes that each of these buildings will be 21 stories, the hospital being a four-story base with a 17-story tower. Since the implications of a 265-foot- or 327-foot-tall building will have meaning to very few people reading the article, most will focus on the number of stories. This is highly misleading. 

Hospitals typically have high floor-to-floor heights to accommodate the many mechanical and electrical services required by a modern facility. The 265-foot height proposed for the residential building means a floor-to-floor height of 12 feet, significantly greater than the adjacent high-rise residences. In order to appreciate the impact of this proposal on our community, it is worth visualizing the buildings’ actual sizes. 

At 327 feet, the proposed hospital would be roughly the height of a 35-story apartment building. To understand its impact, one could stand at the corner of Greenwich and Seventh Aves. (at the “tile wall”) and picture a structure rising above the old Maritime Building (St. Vincent’s O’Toole Building) nearly twice as tall as the apartment building on the northeast corner of Seventh Ave. and 12th St. However, unlike the apartment building, which sets back as it rises, the proposed hospital would be a continuous wall running from the northeast to the southwest corners of the Maritime Building, bellying dramatically out toward the corner of Seventh Ave. and 12th St.

The proposed new apartment building would be the equivalent of six stories taller than the existing Coleman tower, but would run the full block of Seventh Ave. from 11th St. to 12th St. This, along with the hospital tower, would destroy the urban quality of the current St. Vincent’s triangle and dwarf the Greenwich Village scale. 

I have lived on W. 11th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. for the past 36 years. As an 11th St. resident, the proposal to redevelop the St. Vincent’s property directly opposite me would be an immense personal benefit. However, I am also a Villager, a New Yorker and an architect. When viewed from these perspectives, the St. Vincent’s/Rudin proposal would cause untold damage to an irreplaceable world-class cultural treasure.

Let’s be clear. St. Vincent’s provides important services to our community and to the city as a whole. In the past, I have supported the various St. Vincent’s plans for modernization and improvement, including some that compromised my own living conditions. It seemed to me that the proposals were, for the most part, addressing legitimate space and facilities needs. It also seemed that the expansions were designed to minimize damage to the Village, both to scale and to continuity. The currently proposed plan is, however, first and foremost about money. There is no question that if the sale of the St. Vincent’s property were not the driving force for this proposal, a totally state-of-the-art medical facility could be built without any increase in the existing building volume. There is also no question that this proposal will fundamentally compromise the scale of the Village forever. In this, it is different at its core from any of the St. Vincent’s expansions in the past 50 years, the period in which we came to realize the incredible value of the unique qualities of our historic neighborhood. 

Carl Stein FAIA
Stein is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects

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