Nouvel Tower 'Frightening': Assemblyman Gottfried Joins Anti-Nouvel Crowd

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has come out against Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel’s tower planned to rise next to the Museum of Modern Art, joining neighbors and State Senator Liz Krueger in their opposition to the project.

The tower, which has received much praise in the architectural world, needs approval from both the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the City Planning Commission and the City Council to proceed. At a hearing earlier this month, residents lined up to speak out against the tower, named Tower Verre, saying its 75-story height and its mid-block placement (i.e. not on a corner) are out of character for the block.

Fifty-third Street is characterized by low-rise mixeduse development. The Verre Tower plan is inconsistent with and degrades this character,” Mr. Gottfried wrote to the LPC.

The full text of Mr. Gottfried’s letter:

Robert Tierney, Chair

Landmarks Preservation Commission

One Centre Street, 9th Floor North

New York, NY 10007

Re: Modifications of use and bulk of St. Thomas

Church and the University Club

Dear Bob:

In order to permit the transfer of development rights from two individual landmarks to 53 West 53rd Street, the Landmarks Preservation Commission must confirm that preservation plans for the landmarks are in place and that the architecture of the new building is harmonious with the landmarks.

New York City’s Zoning Code allows the owner of a landmarked building to offset the “private burden” of owning and maintaining a landmark property by selling unused development rights pursuant to a special permit.

St. Thomas Church, an individual landmark in good condition, is applying for a special permit under §74-711 to sell all 275,000 square feet of its air rights, arguing that the preservation plan it is currently undertaking satisfies the findings required by the Zoning Code. The University Club is applying for a special permit under §74-79 to sell all 136,000 square feet of its air rights, presenting a preservation plan which also falls short of meeting the findings.

Neither landmark is in danger of deterioration, or has a stated lack of resources.

Community Board 5 reports that both are currently in good condition with ongoing maintenance plans. Therefore, there is no “burden” that needs to be relieved and no landmark preservation purpose to be served by the air rights sale. Yet there is substantial public burden resulting from the excessive height and density, shadows, traffic, and other impacts the proposed tower will impose on the community.

The Verre Tower is a frightening example of how zoning provisions like this can work and it highlights the need for reform. The Verre Tower would be 1,155 feet high, almost as tall as the Empire State Building, making it the third tallest building in New York City. Unlike other notable skyscrapers, the Verre Tower site is not on a wide avenue or a wide crosstown street; it is midblock on a narrow mixed-use side street with its back on a residential street.

Community Board 5 voted to deny the §74-711 special permit request by the St. Thomas Church because the preservation plan is not robust enough to balance the burden of the tower on the community.

A §74-711 permit also requires a finding that the building will relate harmoniously to the transferring landmark. I was informed that because of the distance between the development site and the landmark, the harmoniousness finding would be considered to be waived. However, since the landmark and the tower will be on the same lot, the zoning resolution is clear on the requirement for a finding of harmoniousness. The lot is to be merged, and thus the two properties would be on the same lot.

I do not believe the Commission could justifiably waive the requirement for a finding of harmoniousness for a transfer of this size. The harmful impact the tower will have on St. Thomas Church and the surrounding area is substantial despite the distance between the tower and the landmark.

Community Board 5 voted to deny the §74-79 special permit request by the University Club. The zoning text is clear; there must be a preservation plan that benefits the landmark without adding burden on the community. Fifty-third Street is characterized by low-rise mixeduse development. The Verre Tower plan is inconsistent with and degrades this character.

Not-for-profit organizations and cultural institutions are increasingly trying to make use of their air rights to build residential or commercial towers that undermine landmark, historic district, and zoning regulations. This trend is detrimental to communities and should be resisted by community boards and City agencies, especially the Landmarks Commission. Thomas Church and the surrounding area is substantial despite the distance between the tower and the landmark.

Community Board 5 voted to deny the §74-79 special permit request by the University

Club. The zoning text is clear; there must be a preservation plan that benefits the landmark without adding burden on the community. Fifty-third Street is characterized by low-rise mixeduse development. The Verre Tower plan is inconsistent with and degrades this character.

Not-for-profit organizations and cultural institutions are increasingly trying to make use of their air rights to build residential or commercial towers that undermine landmark, historic district, and zoning regulations. This trend is detrimental to communities and should be resisted by community boards and City agencies, especially the Landmarks Commission.

I urge the Commission to rej
ect both applications.

Very truly yours,

Richard N. Gottfried

Assembly Member

 

Nouvel Tower 'Frightening': Assemblyman Gottfried Joins Anti-Nouvel Crowd