By Brian J. Pape, AIA
This past month, several Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) decisions have neighbors upset. What drove the LPC to make these choices?
At 11 Jane Street, the LPC approved a new apartment building designed by David Chipperfield that is as plain as they come. Developer Minskoff Equities had an as-of-right plan, except for the required LPC review, which the community called a motel chain design. The LPC made few changes and declared it to be good enough; it felt that the building probably doesn’t change the character of the block.
Another approved LPC case was 145 Perry Street—a mega-mansion for investor Steven A. Cohen and an adjoining apartment house for his kids at 711 Washington Street. Talk about togetherness! Of the two previous proposals brought to the LPC for this site, one was a large hotel that would have changed the character of the area dramatically. Not only are residences better than a hotel in this context, the LPC praised the “rich” detailing by Leroy Street Studio and the landscaping by Edmund Hollander. It is a gem compared to another recent mansion down the block at 335 West 12th Street, which contains as impoverished and boring a facade as you can imagine; that was also passed by the LPC.
Now comes the structure at 150 Barrow Street and West Street—a landmarked building known as Keller Hotel, long empty and deteriorating. Restore the hotel, Gottlieb Real Estate proposes. Hire Morris Adjmi Architects and historical consultant Higgins Quasebarth to do a beautiful renovation—what a great idea! No, not great, for “the devil is in the details.” Not content with just an old hotel, Gottlieb also purchased two mostly vacant adjacent lots and wishes to fully develop them too. Well, that is their right, no?
Change comes in many forms and this is a real game-changer. People can still remember the hotel operating and a bar at the storefront facing the river piers—rather small-scale activities. What will the new hotel promise?
The original hotel will double in size with a new “wing” building at 144 Barrow Street; the addition is called an apartment building with balconies and terraces, which will be right up against the 130 Barrow Street condominium. The old hotel and new addition will sprout penthouses with ample roof terraces, with bar areas on the roof and other terraces for big party spaces overlooking neighbors’ courtyard windows.
Then, there will be a large commercial kitchen to serve the restaurants and party spaces, spewing smoky fumes into neighbors’ windows (it can’t be avoided, since prevailing winds come from the river).
Instead of quiet, family residential activities, there will now be nightly partygoers, transient guests, taxis, limos, and even busses, in addition to groups of partiers from the Hudson River Park piers, which is a popular spot. If you don’t think that this hotel will attract that much activity, consider the appeal of a party site along the water, then count how rare such venues are in that area; do the math.
Quality of life may be hard to define, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize the sea of change stemming from this development. Only true residential uses are appropriate for these quiet side streets. The hotel use might be tolerable if dining activity is kept at the West Street storefront, returning the hotel to its former footprint and keeping loud parties off of the roof.
Do we stand a chance to retain the existing character here? Besides denying the ability to alter the landmark hotel with a penthouse, the denial of a liquor license would limit it to restaurant use only. The community is ready for you to join in a fight for the quality of life of the West Village.