BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | After decreeing that a previous tower plan was too tall, the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a retooled, somewhat smaller building for the Church of St. Luke in the Fields block. The commission also O.K.’d, with only one “no” vote, a rooftop addition for St. Luke’s School.
The new designs were presented to the commissioners by the project architects, but this time no testimony from the public was allowed.
The St. Luke’s block is bounded by Hudson, Barrow, Greenwich and Christopher Sts., which is within the landmarked Greenwich Village Historic District. The residential tower, a portion of which will be for affordable housing, is planned for the block’s southwest corner, currently an open-air parking lot.
At 121 feet tall, the tower is now 32 feet, or three stories, shorter than the original design. A campanile, or slender tower, was removed from atop the earlier design. However, the building’s overall size has actually increased by 1,400 square feet, though the number of apartments is the same.
The structure’s setback top portion will be clad in bronze with an oxidized finish that will age to a patina to match the roof of the historic church.
Reverend Caroline Stacey, the rector of St. Luke’s, issued a statement following the approval of the project, which the church says it needs for its financial survival.
“We are thrilled that that the Landmarks Preservation Commission agrees that the new residential building will be an appropriate contextual addition to the historic district,” Mother Stacey said. “We are delighted that 20 percent of the units will be affordable housing. We are also pleased that the approval of the school addition will enable more than 100 new seats to be added and will augment the church’s partnership with St. Luke’s School into the future.
“This has been a community effort,” she said. “We appreciate the input our neighbors gave us as we pursued the redevelopment of our parking lot. The L.P.C.’s decision today will mean great things for the St. Luke’s community. The church will be able to enter the next chapter of its history with a stronger financial footing and an enhanced capacity to serve the community.”
The church’s long-term goal includes building a new mission center at the block’s northeastern corner, where L.G.B.T.Q. homeless youth and H.I.V.-positive individuals could receive meals and shelter.
The church currently has a Saturday night feeding program for this population that accommodates 80. But the program is outgrowing the space — which is why St. Luke’s wants to build a new mission center on the site of the school’s current playground at the corner of Hudson and Christopher Sts.
Depending on how soon the project gets built, it could be the first affordable housing created in the West Village in years. Toll Brothers will construct the residential tower and receive a 99-year lease for it. Under the 421a program, in return for including the affordable units, the developer will receive a tax break.
Commissioners voiced their approval of the redesign.
The new version “feels much more akin to its neighbors,” said Michael Goldblum, adding, “I think that it is quite appropriate to the location, much more restrained. I can support this.”
Nevertheless, another commissioner noted, “I would have liked to have seen it a floor or two shorter.”
After giving all the other commissioners their turn to comment, L.P.C. Chairman Robert Tierney had the final word.
“Greatly improved,” he said. “It’s appropriate for the district and it’s important for this institution.”
However, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, slammed the commission’s vote, as well as the lack of public input at the end of the process. The public had been allowed to weigh in with testimony on the original design earlier during the commission’s review.
“We are deeply disappointed that the L.P.C. approved this revised design today,” Berman said. “The new design is substantially different than the old one, and yet the public was given no opportunity to review or comment upon this new application, which will have a profound visual impact upon the neighborhood. While we are grateful that the height of the tower was lowered somewhat, many of the other concerns we and many others expressed about the proposed new building and the additions to the school were not addressed. I think both the process and the outcome were flawed in this case.”
In addition, the L.P.C. commissioners on Tuesday heard an initial presentation of a proposal to add a two-story, “cast glass” rooftop addition atop 9-19 Ninth Ave., in the Gansevoort Market Historic District, a property that currently includes Keith McNally’s Pastis restaurant.
George Schieferdecker, of BKSK architects, presented the design for the rooftop addition, while Elise Quasebarth, of Higgins Quasebarth and Partners, gave the history of the building.
Schieferdecker said the Meatpacking District has a “robust discord” in its architecture, due to the many additions over the years of its use as a working marketplace.
Gansevoort Plaza, as the five-way intersection that the property fronts on is known, has seen many changes since the Ninth Ave. El was demolished in 1940, he noted.
“The source of the district’s evocative grit came from a distinct set of uses — but uses have changed,” he said.
Quasebarth said the building’s “historical record is extremely complicated.” For example, in old photos, it’s often impossible to see what its first-floor uses were because they’re in shadow from an overhang.
“There was a lot of construction, demolition, partial demolition, which gives a very ragtag appearance to the district,” she noted. At the same time, this offers an “exciting palette for new construction design ideas,” she added.
In short, the proposal is to strip away much of the first-floor brick to expose cast-iron piers, and add the glass addition on top. The new rooftop structure would better enclose and define the plaza, Schieferdecker said, making the property “more of a player in the square.”
The addition “helps to strengthen the character of that urban space,” he added.
A 1-foot-by-1-foot prototype of the glass was carried around for the commissioners to look at.
Another member of the presenting team added, “The character [of the glass] is a rawness and a texture that is akin to the Belgian blocks” that line the Meatpacking District’s streets.
This time, the public was allowed to voice their opinions. Local residents were decidedly cool on what they blasted as a giant and noncontextual “ice cube” that would be plopped on top of the key site.
“A landmarked district is not supposed to be a palette for experimentation,” said Penny Mintz.
“It will overwhelm Gansevoort Plaza,” said Zack Winestine, co-chairperson of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force. Drawing laughter, he added, “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘You know, this plaza needs to be contained.’ ”
Winestine said the community opposed an outdoor restaurant / nightclub scene that would surely occur on the new structure’s rooftop, but Schieferdecker said there are no plans for that.
Martica Sawin said the light glaring out of the New School’s new building on 14th St. at Fifth Ave. at night has been a problem and the same thing could happen with this “glass ice cube.”
“I was one of the people who got this district landmarked in 2003, and when I saw this design I nearly cried,” said Elaine Young.
However, one person did speak in favor of the proposal, Rob Garcia, a local resident and partner in Urban Reality.
“With other buildings, such as the Gansevoort Hotel, I think it brings a great mix,” he said. “I’m all for any enhancement to this district.”
But Chris Terrio spoke to the need to previous “true grit” rather than grit in name only.
“My grandfather worked for 40 years as a Teamster six block from that site,” he said. “It’s more than generic grit, theme-park grit.”
The L.P.C. commissioners extensively discussed the application among themselves, and clearly felt it needs work.
“I think the idea of using glass on the second floor is a little uncontextual, a little out of left field,” Goldblum offered.
Frederick Bland said he was concerned about “the hovering of the big ice cube.”
Joan Gerner said ripping out the first-floor brick and putting on the glass addition made the building look like it was “teetering on high heels.”
Again, Chairperson Tierney had the final word.
“I think the nature of this discussion proves the importance of the district,” he stated, adding that Gansevoort Plaza is “the only true piazza in New York. It’s certainly a critical location,” he stressed.
There was no vote. The applicant will have to present a redesigned plan if they hope to win approval.
G.V.S.H.P.’s Berman said while the property is apparently still owned by the William Gottlieb company, the applicant has leased the site, and Gottlieb apparently has no involvement in the project.
Whether Pastis would reopen in the renovated property is unclear. But it certainly wouldn’t seem to mesh with the kind of retro Belle Époque-style decor for which McNally is known.