Development threatens West Side waterfront

As the glow is still fresh on the victory over the designation of the Gansevoort Market Historic District, a development on the Greenwich Village waterfront raises anew the alarm, warning the struggle is not over.

A new 16-story residential condominium tower, designed by architect Richard Meier, is planned at Charles and West Sts., just south of the new Meier-designed residential towers flanking Perry St.

Although this is only a block-and-a-half stretch of the Greenwich Village waterfront, that entire waterfront is not very long. The “transparent mimimal form” buildings, as architecturally distinguished as some find them, represent a wall between the Village and waterfront.

A bit south, a less attractive large new building, Morton Square, is being completed. Whereas the Meier buildings are as of right, meaning residential use was allowed, Morton Square needed a zoning variance, which was granted over community opposition.

Other developers are trying to build their own dazzling designer edifices up and down the Far West Side, such as the 32-story Jean Nouvel-designed sliver tower in the Meat Market and the “Habitable Sculpture,” designed by Philip Johnson and proposed by local developer Nino Vendome in Hudson Sq. The Nouvel residential variance application was denied by the Board of Standards and Appeals; the height of the Johnson/Vendome project was slashed by the B.S.A. Vendome is still at it, and says Johnson is drafting a new design.

Meanwhile, on Greenwich St. near Canal St., two new large residential projects did get residential variances — one, by architect Winka Dubbledam, is being completed, and construction is underway on an even larger one next door.

At this rate, even if only 30 percent of these residential “spot variances” are approved, the face of the neighborhood will soon be significantly altered.

With the Meat Market’s landmarking, we’ve seen how effective a coalition can be working towards a goal. The same must be done to preserve the waterfront — and the South Village, too. However, the waterfront, with its attractive new park and sunset views, seems most at risk.

Community Board 2 needs to stake out a position and get the ball rolling. Also, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairperson Robert Tierney should follow the footsteps of his predecessor, Sherida Paulsen, who met regularly with Board 2’s landmarking task force. This close working relationship helped the Noho Historic District additions and Gansevoort District move forward. One would hope that, as a Villager, Tierney is interested in preserving the Village’s threatened areas.

As well as landmarking, another part of the equation should be zoning, namely height limits, plus protections of the area’s remaining manufacturing.

If steps aren’t taken now, the Village waterfront could soon be lined by allegedly “transparent” towers, blocking views to the river, making the Village resemble Miami Beach.