Save Gansevoort files suit vs. Landmarks, developers; ‘Agency is not preserving’

West Villagers tried to hold the L.P.C. commissioners to their earlier statements before they voted at a hearing on the “Gansevoort Row” project in June. Villager file photo

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Save Gansevoort — the group fighting a full-block redevelopment project slated for historic Gansevoort St. between Ninth Ave. and Washington St. — last Friday filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and the project’s developers.

The community-based group seeks to overturn L.P.C.’s decision to allow what it calls “a massive, out-of-character development” in the landmarked Gansevoort Market Historic District.

The developers being sued included Aurora Capital Associates, William Gottlieb Real Estate and their affiliates.

Save Gansevoort notes that the lawsuit “is one of multiple litigations instituted against L.P.C. and other city agencies and commissions over a series of unprecedented decisions by the city to grant permission to private real estate developers to develop and convert landmark properties.”

In this instance, Landmarks authorized the conversion of several, one-to-two story, low-rise landmark market buildings into larger commercial buildings, whose upsizing the plaintiffs charge is “out of context” with the district and would “forever change” the district’s streetscape.

Gansevoort Market — a.k.a. the Meat Market and the Meatpacking District — is among the last intact “fully integrated” market districts left in the U.S., the plaintiffs note.

The Aurora / Gottlieb project, known as “Gansevoort Row,” was opposed by Community Board 2 and a slew of local politicians, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick, state Senator Brad Hoylman, City Councilmember Corey Johnson, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Borough President Gale Brewer.

The opposition also included more than 4,000 e-mails and other correspondence, as well as testimony from about 50 people who testified for hours before L.P.C. issued its decision. Only two members of the public — one of whom was employed by the developers — spoke in favor of the project.

Zack Winestine, one of the co-leaders of Save Gansevoort, said the legal action is meant to hold the the agency’s feet to the fire, and get them to do their job — preserve landmarks, not let developers rip apart the integrity of designated historic districts.

“Gansevoort Market, the West Village, Greenwich Village and other historic districts throughout New York City are under attack by developers,” he said. “We hope this lawsuit will send a message to the Landmarks Preservation Commission that they must consistently and forcefully protect the historic districts and landmarks they are charged with preserving.”

Michael Hiller, an attorney who specializes in the preservation of landmark properties and other public assets, is representing Save Gansevoort in this case.

“The city’s grant of permission to the Gansevoort developers is part of a larger trend, as revealed by the unprecedented line of decisions by city agencies under the current mayoral administration to authorize the privatization of landmark properties and other public assets,” Hiller asserted.

Hiller noted he has seen his preservation case load more than triple since Mayor Bill de Blasio was inaugurated in 2014.

“The Landmarks Preservation Commission has ceased to be a commission that engages in landmark preservation,” the attorney said. “Instead, it has become a city agency dedicated to justifying decisions favorable to real estate developers — even if it means that L.P.C. violates its own prior rulings and the language and history of the Landmarks Law.”

Hiller expressed particular concern over the “reasoning” offered by Landmarks to grant permission to alter and destroy the Gansevoort Market buildings.

“If not reversed, the decision by L.P.C. would set a new and dangerous precedent that would pave the way for wholesale demolition and conversion of every landmark district in New York,” he warned. “The fight to save the Gansevoort Market Historic District thus represents a line in the sand: If L.P.C.’s decision in this case is not reversed, it would set back decades of progress made by public officials and New Yorkers throughout the city dedicated to preservation.”

In another “diss” to the Gansevoort district, L.P.C. recently allowed its staff to sign off on changes to the former Florent restaurant facade, on the north side of Gansevoort St., opposite the “Gansevoort Row” project. However, the building, 69 Gansevoort St., was deemed a “contributing structure” in the historic district’s designation report. Thus, any changes to its exterior should have received a public hearing in front of the agency’s commissioners. So say Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and state Senator Brad Hoylman.

Both Berman and Hoylman have written to L.P.C. asking for an explanation. Furthermore, parts of the work were not done according to the permit that L.P.C. approved, and the preservationist and politician want to know how the agency is going to address this problem.

Hoylman noted that his husband, David Sigal, made a movie on Florent Morellet and his eponymously named hot spot.