CB1 Landmarks Committee: The Unofficial Minutes

I don’t usually attend meetings of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee, but the agenda looked intriguing, and sure enough the meeting was full of human drama.

But first, let’s talk about the new building going up at 403 Greenwich. That’s the site of this squat brick building:

Two years ago, a plan had been presented to build what was billed as the Glass Atelier, entirely made of glass, on this site and the one next to it. Personally, I thought it sounded awesome, but the committee was not sorry to hear that the plan was ditched and the site sold (“Recession does have its benefits.”) Leaving the adjacent building alone, the new developer hired architect Morris Adjmi to come up with a design that’s not as far out as the Glass Atelier, but still awfully attractive. I got twinges of real-estate lust (mitigated when I remembered what the windows will have views of). Here’s a rendering courtesy MA.com:

The photo is by me, of course; apologies to the folks in it. Anyway, the building is seven stories, made of blackened steel, and there will be no retail on the ground floor.

In other drama-less news, we learned about how an ugly little service building under the FDR Drive, between Pier 15 and 16, is being prettied-up and expanded to include public restrooms and a bike rental business. It’s a nice plan, part of the East River Waterfront project.

Also, the owner of the penthouse at 142 Duane is going to have a deluxe party pit in the sky, replete with hot tub.

Also, it’s official: The new building to be constructed at 87 Chambers/71 Reade will be residential, not a hotel.

Things got more interesting when a gentleman representing 7 Harrison (at Staple) asked for permission to install three AT&T cellular antennas on the roof, to go along with the three that are already there. The committee expressed concern that we’re all being zapped by microwaves, especially in light of what they say is on the roof of 60 Hudson, and then they wondered if the first three had ever been approved. They once decided to make a master plan of all antennas in the landmarked districts, but it got dropped like an AT&T call. (One member did ask why we needed more antennas given that no one complains about bad cell service in the area, which I found confusing—people complain constantly.) A neighbor piped up that her penthouse’s garden faces the ugly antennas and her grandkids are getting cooked. The committee decided to reject the plan, although as we’ll see in a minute, that may not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Architect Gene Kaufman, who is infamous in the pages of Curbed, half-assedly presented plans for changes at 396 Broadway (at the southeast corner of Walker), which is being converted to rentals.

It was clear that Kaufman and some members of the committee had bad blood, and while Kaufman didn’t snipe much—he was barely even there—one committee member did. The conflict came about this time because the plans weren’t as robust as they usually are, which was suspected to be a gambit on Kaufman’s part. As one member said, “I might not have a problem with these changes, but I can’t tell what they are.” Kaufman said he’d answer any questions, which isn’t exactly the same thing as being proactively upfront. In the end, the committee said you can come back with more details or we’ll reject it, and he said he wasn’t coming back, so they rejected it. What everyone in the room knew, not least of all Kaufman, was that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission often ignores community board input anyway.

And then there’s the heartbreaking tale of 46 Warren, which you and I know as the building with Tribeca Pediatrics on the ground floor.

Decades ago, the family that owns it had land on the WTC site, but it was seized under eminent domain and they were given 46 Warren. One member now has a debilitating disease that will require him to be in a large wheelchair, but the current elevator shaft is extremely narrow. Worse, it’s in the front of the building. So the family is hoping to install a new elevator in that would require a large bulkhead on the roof. As you can see from the mock-up in the photo, it would be highly visible. As the committee asked the architect about other possible options, none of which were viable for various reasons, another member of the family—understandably at the end of his rope—expressed his frustration with the situation and the process, then left in a rage. The committee urged the architect to talk to the family about other options in lieu of moving to vote.

When landmarks preservation goes up against the needs of a disabled person, what trumps what? I don’t know, and I’m glad I was just a bystander. When I walked by 46 Warren the next morning, I wondered whether an unattractive bulkhead would even be noticed considering the atrocity to the east.


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