By Robert Widmann
What would Jane Jacobs say?
In the late afternoon hours of February 14th, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to approve the third design submitted by Minskoff Equities and its architect, David Chipperfield. The hearing, after all of the community opposition, was a low-energy affair. In the end, the opposition of the Manhattan Borough President, the Council Member for the Village, Community Board 2, the 400-plus individuals who wrote letters to the LPC and the Mayor, and the 37 people who testified against the plan, counted for very little.
Let’s cut to the chase and tick off some of the reasons why the LPC’s decision was, to put it simply, wrong, wrong, wrong!
- In the months and years to come, this project will serve as a template for many similar sites around the Village, and will sanction oversized buildings for many sites in the neighborhood.
- The proposed design projects a lot-line slab front that is 50% larger than any previous structure on this very narrow street.
- Overall, the proposed structure is twice as large in scale as any ever on this site and twice as large as the structure now on the site.
- This 81-foot-high building will soak up twice as much light, reflect back to the neighborhood twice as much sound, produce a graceless, “buck-tooth” effect on the skyline, looking north, and most depressingly, create the gloomy feeling of being walled in at the street level.
- The original plan presented was, of course, a stalking horse. From the start, the intention was to scale down the deliberately over-inflated dimensions. (You read about how this ploy would play out in WestView, back in July of 2016.)
- The well-known architect, David Chipperfield, was chosen from the beginning as an impression-making “label.” He has always been willing to compromise his design but has, again and again, defended what he called the “volumetrics” of the structure. This speaks to the reality of the 800-pound gorilla in the room—the money-making aspect of this project.
- This project weighs in at 30,000 square feet. It reflects the through-the-roof real estate prices now being realized in the Village. At present market rates, the developer stands to make in excess of $70,000,000 on this project.
- The building is intended for the super rich and, as such, will amplify the recent trend to re-create and repackage the Village as an enclave for the super wealthy.
- After all of the protest, the scale of the building has been reduced by only 14%.
- Yes, 11 Jane Street will be the work of one of today’s best architects. However, considering all of the above, it is not worth the price that the people who live here will pay, day in and day out, through their diminished living experience.
Ms. Jacobs, were she around, might say, “Downsize the greed. Please. And don’t repeat this!” But how can we avoid it? Do we need to re-appraise designations and descriptions for existing buildable sites? Do we need to re-write the landmarking law? Do we need to change the Landmarks Preservation Commission itself? How do we get closer to the mayor who is the ultimate decision maker in these matters? Is there any way to bring about an LPC that could have said, “No, Mr. Minskoff! Downsize the greed and cut this building in half!”?