The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has approved a plan to demolish five structures in the Tribeca East Historic District that date from the early 1800s and allow construction of large apartment tower in their place.
The LPC, which often ignores or contradicts the advisory opinions of local community boards, appeared to agree with Community Board 1 (CB1) on the question of a new building proposed for 312-322 Canal Street, between Church Street and Broadway, in June of last year. At that time, the LPC’s chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan, called the proposed structure, “completely inappropriate,” and, “a big, monolithic, uninteresting tower… [with] no personality whatsoever.” Other commissioners decried the design’s lack of context with the surrounding streetscape, with one describing the plan as “dog-won’t-hunt” and “no-go.”
At the June hearing, however, the LPC — in an remarkable departure from custom — appeared to agree with the developer that the structures that would need to be demolished in order to make way for the project — a series of foundations and interior walls, which are all that remain of five row houses built in 1826 — were dispensable. What the LPC panelists could not abide, however, was the proposed design: a wall of bright-red brick and glass, 97 feet high, by 102 feet wide.
This LPC hearing followed a scathing resolution enacted by CB1 a month earlier, in which the Board’s Landmarks Committee called the proposal, “unacceptable on almost every level,” describing it as a, “long blockhouse,” and comparing it to a, “mini-33 Thomas Street,” in a reference to the widely reviled ATT Long Lines Building at Thomas and Church Streets, the early 1970s construction of which first catalyzed the movement to preserve Tribeca’s architectural history.
In unusually strong wording, that resolution compared the proposed design to a Hilton Garden Inn and said, “one wishes more could be said in favor of this proposal,” adding that, “the committee is at a loss here.” The resolution concluded with an unequivocal call: “CB1 urges that the Landmarks Preservation Commission reject this application.”
But the LPC, at its June session, did not actually vote to block the project. Rather, the commissioners chose to take no action on the proposal one way or the other, leaving it in limbo. Among real estate developers, this is widely understood to be a signal that they should completely revise their design, and bring it back before the LPC at a later date.
The developer, Trans World Equities, and their architect, Paul A. Castrucci, returned to the LPC on January 23, with a new design that replaced the brick facade with a combination of terra cotta, brick, and cast iron — all in a more muted shade of red. They also reduced the proposed size of the apartment building from nine stories to seven. Based on these changes, the LPC voted to allow the project to proceed.
None of which is likely to appease nearby residents who oppose the plan. At the CB1 discussion of the project last May, James Sanders, who lives on nearby Lispenard Street, spoke on behalf of a group of concerned Tribeca residents. “I’m an architect and resident of Tribeca since 1992,” he began. “My neighbors and I care a lot about our City and this neighborhood.”
“The proposed building is completely inappropriate to its context,” Mr. Sanders continued. “It is to be built on the site of five row houses from 1826. These row houses have been altered over time and are now only two stories tall, but their walls remain. And you could see this history until 2010, when owners who are currently proposing the nine-story building performed illegal work on these buildings, with no permission from the Department of Buildings, or the Landmarks Preservation Commission.”
“When they went to Landmarks to retroactively legalize what they had done, the Commission rejected them,” he added. “They now propose a nine-story building clad in a pre-fab brick panelized system. We believe the height and scale of the building have no reference to Tribeca or its history.”
These themes were taken up by Jason Friedman, a member of CB1’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee. As he summarized the discussion for CB1 as whole, Mr. Friedman said, “we felt that the proposed building did not capture the street wall that is part of the Historic District. It’s not respectful to the history of the lot, and neighbors were worried about effects on light and air.”