Preservationists make a stand against planned Schnabel tower


By Albert Amateau

The rezoning preserving the low-rise character of the West Village became law a month ago but neighborhood advocates are still fighting the move by the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel to evade the new zoning by building a 110-foot-tall tower on top of the three-story former stable he owns a half-block from the Village waterfront.

About 40 neighbors led by Andrew Berman, head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, spent last Sunday afternoon demonstrating in front of Schnabel’s building at 360 W. 11th St.

Preservation advocates want the Department of Buildings to stop work on the project despite Schnabel’s claim that construction had progressed far enough by the Oct. 11 new zoning date to allow it to proceed under the old rules.

The buildings department agreed with Schnabel and ruled that construction could continue. But neighbors charged that work on the project was done after legal hours during the days prior to the zoning approval.

After preservation advocates, with the help of elected officials, submitted documents, videotapes and reports from the Sixth Police Precinct about the illegal work, the Department of Buildings agreed to reconsider its ruling. But so far, the department has neither affirmed nor reversed its decision.

“The city must not reward lawbreakers like Julian Schnabel who flagrantly flout the law with the belief that they will not get caught and can get away with whatever they want to do,” said Berman. “This neighborhood fought long and hard for a rezoning to prevent exactly the kind of development that Mr. Schnabel is trying to sneak in here,” Berman added.

Berman said that despite multiple 311 calls, the Department of Buildings was never able to send an inspector to the site in time to observe the illegal work.

While work had ceased on the Schnabel project in October, neighbors noted that construction had resumed during the first week in November, Berman said.

Nevertheless, preservation advocates are still hopeful that they can stop the 11-story addition to the former stable in the new West Village zoning district. Their efforts were successful in stopping work on a two-story addition to a six-story building at 166 Perry St. begun by Richard Born, developer of two of the three Richard Meier-designed glass residential towers at Perry, West and Charles Sts.

Preservation advocates also convinced the buildings department to stop plans for a nine-story building at 163 Charles St. to replace a three-story 1832 building that had been demolished.

City Councilmember Christine Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and State Senator Tom Duane have been instrumental in the effort to prevent evasions of the new zoning.