By Ananth Sampathkumar, Partner NDNY Architecture + Design
NIMBY or ‘Not In My Backyard’ is a term you hear quite often in conjunction with developments in the West Village. With residential properties in close proximity to commercial, retail and institutional establishments, the chances that a new development infringes on the light and air qualities of an existing building are rather high. The most controversial examples of vocal opposition to new construction have been NYU’s mega-development at 181 Mercer Street and the conversion of St. Vincent’s properties from medical facilities to high-end condos and townhouses. These examples have shown how acrimonious the process of building or expanding in historic districts can be. In the end, some compromises on design were needed to appease the opposition.
The Greenwich House Pottery finds itself in a similar predicament. Established in 1908 at its current residence at 16 Jones Street, the mission of the School was, and still is, to teach and promote ceramics and support artists. The facility is laid out in an L-configuration with an inner courtyard that is surrounded by residential properties. Since the early 2000’s, the student body has grown from around 200 to about 500 students now. Some of its members are elderly and the multi-story establishment is not particularly easy to traverse for the less mobile members. In order to cater to the expanding populace and provide elevator access to all floors, the Pottery Studio has undertaken an expansion that covers the only open space that the facility has, thereby affecting the light and air quality of adjacent properties. The community facility has the right to expand into its green space and the height is within the allowable zoning and building restrictions.
Some of the neighbors are understandably upset about the proposed insertion. The 23’-0” building will land in the donut and all but eliminate the light and views to the rear of the properties on Jones Street. Not only will the noise and associated construction inconveniences be a bother, but the most lasting effect will be the loss of property value. According to the owners of the Jones Street townhouses abutting the open space, the Pottery Studio informed them of their impending plans only a week before the Community Board hearing. While the opposition has been vocal and the Community Board unanimously rejected the development, the project has passed Landmarks approval and is now under review at the Department of Buildings. Construction is anticipated to begin in late fall of 2018.
While the developing team has no obligations to involve the affected neighbors in the design process, it is usually in their best interest to inform them of the project, the reasons for it, how it benefits the community and what steps they plan to undertake to mitigate construction disturbances and debris. This is usually the path of least acrimony. In this case, Greenwich House Pottery gets full marks for looking out for their students, but missed the mark on their neighborly grade.