Volume 74, Number 32 | December 15 - 21, 2004

It’s ‘11th hour’ now for the Far West Village

By Albert Amateau

A detailed map of the proposal submitted by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for landmarking the Far West Village
More than 250 people turned up on a rainy night last week for the second meeting this year on what a coalition of preservation groups fear is the imminent over-development of the Far West Village.

The good news, according to Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, is that the city has recently indicated interest in measures to preserve the low-rise area from Horatio to Barrow Sts. between Greenwich and West Sts.

The bad news, Berman said at the Dec. 9 meeting, is that there are at least seven historic buildings in danger of demolition before the Department of City Planning and the Landmarks Preservation Commission act to protect the area.

Nevertheless, for people who had attended the first meeting in March on preserving the Far West Village, there was hope.

West Village residents and property owners at the meeting heeded Berman’s admonition to bombard the city with letters in support of landmark designation and rezoning the 14-block area. They began writing their preservation pleas before the meeting at 75 Morton St. ended at 9 p.m.

With a cardboard clock showing the hands at 11:55 on display behind him, Berman said, “This is basically the 11th hour for the Far West Village. We’ve lost a lot but we have a lot more to lose. Unless we convince the city to act now we could see one of the city’s greatest historic neighborhoods destroyed forever.”

A 5-ft.-by-4-ft. “Seasons Greetings” card to Mayor Bloomberg was also on display. “All we want for the holidays is to save our neighborhood,” says the card, which G.V.S.H.P. intends to deliver to the steps of City Hall on Dec. 20.

Civic organizations including the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port and the Greenwich Village Community Task Force have joined with Community Board 2 and G.V.S.H.P. to support Far West Village preservation.
The groups want the Landmarks Preservation Commission to confer historic district status on the area with 108 historic buildings. Designation would prevent demolition except for rare instances.

Left out of the proposed landmark designation are the blocks where West Village Houses are located and the sites on Perry and Charles Sts. at West St. of the three 18-story Richard Meier-designed residential towers. There are three existing landmarked buildings; the Jane St. Hotel at Jane and West Sts., 131 Charles St. between Greenwich and Washington Sts. and the Federal Archives building on Christopher between Greenwich and Washington Sts.

Preservation groups also want City Planning to down-zone the area, reducing the current 6.02 floor-area ratio, which has resulted in 18-story buildings and could result in buildings 30 stories or taller on large sites. The groups are talking to City Planning but Berman said it was too early to discuss specific height limits or F.A.R. reductions.

At a Dec. 2 meeting of the Community Board 2 Landmarks Task Force — which includes community members, board members and preservationists — with Landmarks Commission Chairperson Robert Tierney, Tierney said there was “momentum” in the Bloomberg administration to consider Far West Village preservation measures, said Berman, who attended the meeting.

But any action is not likely for several months, Berman added.

Meanwhile, sites that could be demolished include 178 Christopher St. at West St., a four-story gutted building being advertised as “demolition-ready,” said Berman. An 18-story building could replace it, he added.

A house at 163 Charles St., built around 1830, was recently sold and could be replaced by a nine-story building, said Berman. The rear of the endangered building is on Charles Lane, a one-block cobblestone street beloved by Village preservation advocates.

A large low-rise commercial building at 303 W. 10th St. between West and Washington Sts. owned by Lehman Bros. is also on the endangered list because the site is so large that it could accommodate a new 30-story building, Berman said.

Three buildings at 393-397 W. 12th St. between West and Washington Sts., two of which were sold recently by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, could result in a 10-story building if a developer combines the lots, Berman said.

The Related Com-panies in February acquired the Superior Ink building on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts. and intends to demolish and replace it with a residential project, Berman noted. Built in 1919 by Nabisco, the former factory is in a manufacturing zone, so Related must apply to the Board of Standards and Appeals for a zoning variance to allow residential development. “We have a fighting chance to influence the development as it goes through variance procedure,” Berman said.

Preservation groups have reached out to property owners for support, Berman noted. The owners of 159 and 161 Charles St., directly adjacent to the endangered163 Charles St., have pledged to support landmark protection.

Other expressions of support for landmarking came from the owners of 655 Washington St., a federal house of 1829 being restored by its owner, and 132 Charles St., the oldest building in the Far West Village dating from 1820. Other expressions of support for preserving the neighborhood came from the directors of 166 Bank St. and 130 Jane St. The presidents of 708 Greenwich St., 151-157 Charles St./8A-8F Charles Ln. and board members and owners at 130 Barrow and 165 Perry Sts. have also signed on as supporters of preservation efforts, Berman said. 

 Additionally, the president of the Westbeth Residents’ Council presented a letter of support and more than 150 individual letters from Westbeth residents. Board presidents of 495 West St. and 343 W. 12th St. also submitted letters urging designation. 

Support for landmarks designation has also come from the Preservation League of New York State, Landmarks Conservancy, Historic District’s Council and Women’s City Club. Community Board 2 unanimously passed a resolution supporting designation. The Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association and the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association, from the Brooklyn waterfront, also heeded the call to urge immediate landmark designation of the Far West Village.

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