Volume 73, Number 31 | December 3 - 9, 2003


Don’t cut parts out of Market

Until now the effort to create a Gansevoort Historic District has seen one exciting victory after another. Both the City Planning Commission and Landmarks Preservation Commission gave unanimous approval to the district, the boundaries of which were set by Landmarks, though local preservationists and the community had hoped for even broader boundaries.

However, a hearing on the proposed district by the City Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee on Monday raised concern that the process may have hit a troubling obstacle.

The subcommittee’s chairperson, Simcah Felder, said he was “entirely opposed to the landmark process being used in any way to limit development” and property owners’ right to maximize profit.

In the same vein, the Meilman family, former meatpackers, advocated for two large adjacent properties they own on the north side of 14th St. — the proposed district’s northern boundary — to be removed from the district, arguing that landmarking would prevent them from developing on the sites of these two- and three-story buildings.

Yet, the reasons why it is appropriate to landmark this entire district, without exemptions, are numerous.

First, it’s well known landmarking increases a neighborhood’s property values. In addition, as the Planning Commission noted in its review of the increasingly upscale district, there has already been “significant, as-of-right development, including new restaurants, retail, office, studios and art galleries…within the area in recent years.”

On the other hand, another big project in the district would be awful; the Market doesn’t need another inappropriate 13-story Hotel Gansevoort, for example, plunked down its middle, destroying the district’s low-scale ambience. That project got in the ground before Landmarks designated the district.

Second, the development of modern buildings on major arteries of the historic 100-year-old Market will spoil its feeling and contextual fabric, ruining the effect historic designation is trying to achieve. Contrarily, historic districts require a review of new construction to insure it is contextual — as opposed, for example, to the 32-story glass Jean Nouvel-designed tower planned on Washington St. just outside the district that preservationists are still battling. The Meilmans or other owners could add stories to their buildings, but only with a review for appropriateness based on size, scale, materials and other factors.

Third, it would be a slippery slope to cut out parts from the district; the buildings the Meilmans want to remove are no different from others in the district. In short, there’s no fat left to be trimmed.

Fourth, and most important, in the case of this and any historic district, the essence is not one building or several, but the whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts. To peck away will dilute the final result.

For these reasons, the Council Landmarks Subcommittee must carefully weigh its decision — and vote to approve the full Gansevoort Historic District. To do less would disrespect the years of hard work that brought this proposed district this far and would ultimately be a loss for the city, depriving it of an intact, one-of-a-kind, historic Gansevoort Market.


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