Thursday, October 30, 2008

Does the City Planning Commission Actively Loathe Greenwich Village?

Two days ago I received one of those sadly frequent "preservation alerts" from Andrew Berman at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. I've been concerned in past weeks that Andrew was doing a little too much reacting to news stories and not enough getting out in front of stories in which the GVSHP could and should be one of the primary newsmakers. This latest preservation alert does precisely that. Obviously intended to spur people on to action, the letter also smartly lays out the bleak landscape facing Greenwich Village going forward. The verdict: the City Planning Commission -- and especially its chair, Amanda Burden -- is almost increasingly and mystifyingly tone-deaf to the cries of the GVSHP and its many adherents. The question is why.

In 2002, New York Magazine described Burden -- ex-wife of the late Carter Burden, a good Democrat, City Councilman and former owner of the Village Voice --as "the new-look Bloomberg public servant: monied, socially connected, with a sharply honed aesthetic sense. And -- let's not forget -- a highly ambitious agenda." Were that anything but true. And much as I hate quoting the dreaded Wikipedia, Burden's bio on that site notes that she's the "daughter of socialite Babe Paley (1915-1978) and her first husband, Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr. (1913-1999), an heir to the Standard Oil fortune" and in various and sundry other ways has the bluest of blue blood coarsing through her veins. Although she has a master's in urban planning from Columbia, what this and other sources I've been examining suggests me is that Burden may possess a woefully limited understanding of anything but what the monied class wants and demands in New York City. Indeed, if we have observed anything at all from this cruel and despicable decade, it's that the monied class in Gotham wants unfettered, uncontrolled, unquestioned development -- and that it be gussied up by Burden, no doubt, to look like and seem progress, full of super-sunny buzzwords that make the anti-preservationist crowd live with what's left of their consciences.

The result: the small-scale universe of Greenwich Village be damned. Thank you, Ms. Burden.

Now, in my opinion, if you read Berman's letter carefully, what he is doing is trying to outflank -- or at least embarrass --the City Planning Commission, to say nothing of Burden personally, by comparing its apparent lack of action, its blase, let-them-eat-concrete attitude, to the far more sensitive and pro-preservationist stance taken, naturally, by the Landmarks Preservations Commission. But how far will and should Berman go?

Here is the text of Berman's email, hopefully with all links preserved.

Dear friend:

Urgent Need for Rezoning in the Far West Village, South Village, and Hudson Square: Over the last three years, GVSHP has called upon the City to rezone several areas in the Far West Village, South Village and Hudson Square to prevent out-of-scale development. We were spurred by the Trump SoHo 'Condo-Hotel,' oversized proposed new buildings at Washington and Perry Streets and Washington and Charles Streets, and a desire to preserve the scale of the South Village. Thus far however the City has resisted changing the zoning of these areas to protect neighborhood character, although this summer they approved a developer-requested rezoning of a nearby area.

The call for rezoning has now become more urgent with the recent announcement of plans for a 36-story hotel at 68-74 Charlton Street, and with GVSHP's recent discovery of plans for an 18-story hotel at 76 Sullivan Street/160 Sixth Avenue. In the two years since GVSHP first called for a rezoning of the area around the Trump SoHo, more than a half-dozen out-of-scale buildings have gone up or are underway. For a map of some of the planned new developments and the areas GVSHP has urged be rezoned, CLICK HERE.

GVSHP has written to the City Planning Commission reiterating the urgent call to rezone these areas, citing these new threats to neighborhood character.


Send a letter to City Planning Chair Amanda Burden urging her to move ahead with these requested rezonings -- go to for a sample letter you can use.

Protecting Historic East Village Houses of Worship: GVSHP closely monitors building plans throughout the East Village, particularly now that a rezoning which would for the first-time ever cap new building heights in the neighborhood is under consideration. We were therefore greatly disturbed to learn at the beginning of October of plans to build an 8-story condo-tower on top of the beautiful and historic Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection at 59 East 2nd Street.

GVSHP and the East Village Community Coalition immediately reached out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), letting them know of the threat to the building and urging it be landmarked, and provided historic documentation from our research to back up the request. I am happy to report that the LPC responded swiftly by brokering a "standstill agreement" with the church, under which no new construction or demolition would proceed at least through next Spring, during which time the LPC will consider the possibility of landmark designation. This is particularly welcome because a rezoning of the area which would prohibit development such as the planned 8-story tower atop the church will likely be enacted before the end of this year, and before the expiration of the standstill agreement.

In another positive development for historic preservation in the East Village, yesterday the LPC held a hearing on the proposal to landmark St. Nicholas of Myra
Carpatho-Orthodox Church
at 288 East 10th Street/155 Avenue A. GVSHP strongly supported landmark designation of the building, another beautiful and historic but currently unprotected houses of worship in the East Village. GVSHP continues to push for landmark designation of the Congregation Mezritch Synagogue on East 6th Street; demolition plans have been halted, but the LPC has not yet moved on landmark designation.


Send a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission urging that they landmark these three historic East Village houses of worship -- go to for a sample letter you can use.


Andrew Berman, Executive Director
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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