Volume 78 - Number 28 / December 10 - 16, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Row-house row

Preservationists are seeking to prevent the demolition of a Village row house in a traditionally lower-rise area currently being pushed toward designation as a historic district.

The existing five-story property, at 178 Bleecker St. between MacDougal and Sullivan Sts., has already been approved for demolition by the city Department of Buildings, with plans filed to construct an eight-story building in its place.

The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation recently wrote a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to draw attention to the 1861 row house, which sits in an area proposed by G.V.S.H.P. for designation as the South Village Historic District. While the L.P.C. committed to surveying the proposed district — a large swath of the Village including 800 buildings and spanning 38 blocks — the commission has proceeded only with those properties located west of Sixth Ave.

The building in question also backs up to the landmarked MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens space located in the block bounded by Bleecker, MacDougal, Sullivan and Houston Sts., an area G.V.S.H.P. claims would be negatively affected by a new structure nearly twice the size of its surrounding buildings.

But an out-of-scale building is just one of many worries expressed by G.V.S.H.P. Executive Director Andrew Berman, who also cited the contentious construction of another eight-story property at 159 Bleecker St. that the group was able to get reduced in size earlier this year.

Berman referred to the historic property’s seamless connection to two adjacent row houses and its nearly 150-year history in the Village.

“We’ve made them very aware of this danger,” Berman said of his group’s entreaties to the L.P.C., noting they “don’t frequently turn on a dime” in expediting requests. “We’re definitely grateful that they are moving [on the South Village Historic District survey], but we want them to move as quickly as possible.”
Spur of the moment

High Line supporters flooded a public meeting last week wearing matching red T-shirts and waving signs to lobby developers of the Hudson Yards to preserve the northern portion of the former elevated railway.

The meeting, held by Community Board 4 with the development team of The Related Companies/Goldman Sachs, intended to cover the developer’s request for zoning amendments at the site. But instead, Related spent most of the evening rebuffing attempts from High Line advocates to obtain a clear commitment from the developer to protect the High Line’s 10th Ave. “spur,” where it abuts the yards along W. 30th St.

Supporters at the meeting donned “Save the Spur” shirts handed out by Friends of the High Line and held signs reading, “Spur of the Moment,” to draw attention to the section, where the developer plans to build commercial buildings and an urban plaza. Discussions between the Friends and Related about the section’s fate have been ongoing since the developer was chosen this spring.

F.H.L. co-founder Robert Hammond, the first to sign up on the public comment sheet to speak, asked how many people in the room were High Line supporters, at which more than three-quarters of the audience shot up their hands.
“Ten, 20, 30, 100 years from now, no one is going to remember these discussions about the spur,” Hammond said. “It’s either going to be there or it’s not going to be there, and that’s all that really matters. I think the city wants to be on the right side of history, and I think we have that opportunity. … The High Line is going to be the only piece of history that’s visible on the site. It’s what will give this new development soul. Hopefully.”

Frank Sanchez, senior vice president of the Municipal Art Society, said the spur illustrates how the High Line weaves through the city and ultimately connects to the rail yards.

“It’s not intelligible unless the entire High Line is preserved,” he noted. “Why [do] we have to keep coming back at hearing after hearing to defend something that has proved itself so much?”

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, a longtime supporter of the old elevated rail viaduct, also came to the meeting to advocate for saving the structure.

Nadler filed a lawsuit back in the 1980s along with other elected officials to keep the city from tearing the High Line down. He commented that the High Line enhances property values located near the “very valuable and unique open space.”

“Why anyone would even think of tearing down the spur is frankly beyond me,” he added. Nadler then asked that the public be given assurance that the entire High Line be preserved. “We shouldn’t have to re-fight the battle we fought 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

Several residents also questioned the developer’s reasons for not committing to saving the spur. Related’s executive vice president of design and planning, Vishaan Chakrabarti, who is also a board member of the Friends of the High Line, reiterated that Related has made “no decision about the spur.”

“Many of us truly believe in the High Line,” he said. “The spur is very unique. It has a very specific location vis-à-vis our site. I think those discussions with Friends of the High Line have been very productive. We need to work together to solve the problem.”

Heather Murray

mixeduse@communitymediallc.com

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