This afternoon, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold its first and only hearing on the second phase of the proposed South Village Historic District—the formerly working-class section of Greenwich Village that local activists and preservationists say is now under intense development pressure in the aftermath of the Hudson Square rezoning.
While many in the local community have long agitated for landmarking, and the first phase of the process was approved in 2010, the hearing for the second phase hearing remained unscheduled until the Landmarks Commission agreed to hold a vote before the end of this year as a condition of the Hudson Square rezoning, though only on the section north of Houston Street.
The dead may not literally walk among us, but they can certainly cause headaches for developers. In 2006, work on Trump Soho was temporarily halted when human remains were discovered at the construction site, where a Baptist Church once stood. Last year, plans for a development in Queens were nixed after the property—home to a colonial-era cemetery—was landmarked. And back in 1991, the federal government was forced to significantly alter plans for its $276 million federal office tower in Lower Manhattan after uncovering the 17th and 18th-century remains of hundreds of African Americans.
Now, several preservation and community groups are pleading with developer Douglast Steiner to his abandon plans to demolish the Mary Help of Christians Church complex at 181 Avenue A (between East 11th and East 12th streets), because the buildings were built over a former Catholic Cemetery.
Purple People Eaters
If you thought that the war over New York University’s expansion in and around the Greenwich Village was over, think again: the university’s banner “NYU 2031″ plan to add infill buildings to its superblock may be over (okay, well, almost over), but skirmishes continue on the periphery, and two battles that broke out over the past week showing no sign of abating.
The first battle involved the new South Village historic district, which preservationists wanted to go hand-in-hand with the Hudson Square rezoning. Preservationists claimed that the rezoning, in addition to endowing property owners with millions of square feet of residential development rights in exchange for ensuring that nothing like the Trump SoHo would ever happen again, would imperil the unprotected historic neighborhood next door.
What's Old Is New Again
The Trump SoHo, the lone protrusion in an otherwise mid-rise Hudson Square, is one of the most controversial buildings in lower Manhattan—so controversial, in fact, that it helped inspire the neighborhood’s recently-passed rezoning. Built in an industrial and commercial zone, the tower styles itself as a “condo hotel” under a loophole worked out by the Bloomberg administration. While marketed as a condo building, buyers are technically not allowed to stay in their rooms for more than 120 days out of the year, or for more than 29 days out of any 36-day period.
But, as Andrew Berman at the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation pointed out to The Observer, these restrictions are basically unenforceable (the Department of Buildings’s press office didn’t know offhand if anyone’s ever gotten in trouble for violating these provisions, or if they’re even responsible for enforcement), and now Mr. Berman has noticed something strange: the city’s own tax lot data codes the property as ”mixed residential and commercial buildings”—apparently a contravention of the zoning code.
In the Rezone
This afternoon, the City Council voted to approve the Hudson Square rezoning. The rezoning—a plan five years in the making that allows for the creation of a denser, mixed-use district with significantly more residential and retail development—is now in effect. Bordered by Tribeca and Soho, there’s little doubt what the rezoning will mean for Hudson Square’s future. Behold New York’s next hot neighborhood.
Full Council approval was largely a formality after the Council’s land use and zoning and franchise committees voted to approve the plan last week, but it was significant: the last step in a lengthy approval process that will transform a neighborhood currently characterized by old printing plants and quiet sidewalks.
In the Rezone
There is no doubt that the Hudson Square rezoning, if and when it is approved, will reshape what is arguably the last remaining swath of downtown Manhattan’s formerly industrial landscape. Preservationists, however, are not concerned with the fate of the neighborhood’s old printing plants, but rather, that of the quaint district that borders Hudson Square to the northeast.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation claims that development and demolition plans in the as-yet unlandmarked South Village—a chunk of Soho bounded by West 4th to the north, Sixth Avenue to the west, West Broadway to the east and Watts Street to the South—have been speeding up as the rezoning moves through the approval process.
A Gay Old Time
While New York is no closer to getting its first city-recognized gay landmark, it does have a Gay Street.
The street, a charming one-block stretch between Christopher and Waverly streets right off Sixth Avenue, would certainly be a well-placed tribute to the neighborhood’s role in the gay rights struggle. But is that really what it’s named for?
And then there were condos
For a brief moment in the late summer, it seemed possible, if not probable, that the red brick row house at 186 Spring Street might become the first gay rights landmark in the city to be officially recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soho rowhouse sheltered a number of prominent gay rights activists, among them Bruce Voeller (who was a leader in the fight against AIDS), Arnie Kantrowitz and Jim Owles, who was the president of the Gay Activists Alliance at the time he lived there, an influential organization that emerged in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots. Until the spring, it belonged to another notable New Yorker, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz.
But on a rainy morning last week, the building was surrounded by neither city officials nor map-clutching tourists, but by a demolition crew tasked with tearing it down to make way for a seven-story luxury condo.
Historic preservationists and gay rights activists have won a skirmish in their campaign to save 186 Spring Street, a SoHo townhouse that sheltered a number of gay rights activists in the post-Stonewall era—earning landmark designation eligibility from the state and national historic registers. But without a designation from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the house’s demolition still looms as the most likely possibility.
Earning a spot on the State and National registers would be a coup for the preservationists. “It’s truly historic—only one other place in the United States has been placed on the state and national registers in relation to gay and lesbian history,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The other place, also in Manhattan, is the Stonewall Inn.
Seller beware! In April, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz sold his SoHo townhouse to a Canadian developer, who claimed he wanted it for “personal use.”
Now The Village Voice is reporting that the new owner, Stephane Boivin, is seeking permission to demolish the property.Which doesn’t come as a huge surprise given that Mr. Boivin is planning a seven-story, mixed-use property adjacent to the Beastie abode, plus he already owns several other properties in the city.