The Clocktower Lawsuit Was a Success

346-Broadway-with-sculpture-529x1024The Tribeca Trust announced that the lawsuit to block the plan to turn the clocktower part of 346 Broadway (a.k.a. 108 Leonard) into a condo was a success. If you already know the back story, skip to paragraph three.

You may remember last year the case of the great landmarked building at 346 Broadway. It has—among other glories—a wonderful Clocktower Suite with a huge mechanical clock, one that is similar in character to that of Big Ben in London. The suite and the clock were specifically designated as interior landmarks. The suite had customarily been open to the public since at least 1918. It was open for tours, scenic viewing of Lower Manhattan from the outdoor veranda, and for public events. It had also housed a public art gallery, art studios, and an “alternative” arts-oriented radio station. The City even appointed an official (unpaid) Clock Master to care for immense clock mechanism. Then, in an eyebrow-raising sale, the City sold the building to a developer, the Peebles Corporation. And then came the coup de grace. The Landmarks Preservation Commission, in a hotly contested public hearing—gave the developer a “certificate of appropriateness” to renovate the suite and to electrify the ancient mechanical clock mechanism—all in preparation for converting the suite to a private condo to profit Peebles. The public would no longer be allowed access. […]

We sued the developer, Peebles, Beyer Blinder Bell Architects, and the City of New York, specifically the Landmarks Preservation Commission. […]

Judge Lynn Kotler finally issued her opinion. The result: the LPC decision to issue a certificate of appropriateness is overturned and declared to be “irrational, arbitrary, or capricious.” The judge wrote that the decision was irrational because the LPC is supposed to protect, enhance, and perpetuate landmarks, and that the permit would “render the Clocktower Suite ineligible to be designated an interior landmark once the work [of dismantlement] is completed.” Basically, the LPC was doing the opposite of what it was supposed to be doing. The C. of A. is annulled. Done!

There were also errors of law when the LPC gave Peebles the go-ahead to electrify the clock. The LPC had claimed that it was within its discretionary power to do so, but the court said instead that such a decision was to be based on interpretation of the actual statutes, a power that is “an issue of law for the courts.”

Here is the best quote from the ruling:

“Even though the Landmarks Law does not expressly require that public access to an interior landmark be maintained, absent an express limitation to that extent, the general provisions of the Landmarks Law vest the Commission with the power to regulate an interior landmark. That power must include the ability to direct an Owner to maintain public access, since public access is a specific characteristic of an interior landmark.” (Ruling, page 12)

UPDATE 4/1: Here’s the New York Times article on it, which includes this: “Should the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio decide to appeal, it might find itself in the awkward position of arguing that the landmarks commission was effectively powerless to stop the privatization of interior landmarks.”



  1. And the bell will ever come back?

  2. That’s a great victory for the citizens of New York. Although it raises a question as to the entire sale of the building, which should be disallowed. There are other interior landmarks within 346 Browdway, and the city relied upon a stale ULURP from over 30 years ago to dispose of this property.

  3. I still don’t understand exactly why Landmark’s Preservation Commission was applying its resources in support of mutilating and depriving the public of a city landmark. Shouldn’t they be doing the opposite?

  4. The best thing I can say about Landmarks is that they are capricious.

  5. Landmarks should have made a ruling to save the landmarked clock and the landmarked tower, but they were instructed by City Hall to let the developer destroy the landmarks at the very same time that the developer gave the mayor $20,000.

    It’s pure Tammany Hall-era backroom deals, and the losers are the people of NYC and its landmarks.