NYC Says No To Two Skyscrapers in Greenwich Village
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | May 8, 2008
This week the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected St. Vincent's Hospital's plan to raze nine buildings and build two high-rises in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
All 10 commissioners spoke against the $1.6 billion development, effectively dismissing the hospital's proposal.
"The idea of any demolition in a historic district is an enormous step," Robert B. Tierney, the commission's chairman, said at the two-hour meeting on May 6. "It is time for everyone to be taking a deep breath and doing some rethinking."
Residents and preservation groups fumed at the hospital's plan to build a condo tower as well as a 329-foot-tall building on the site of the modern Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building. Designed for the National Maritime Union by Albert C. Ledner, the block-long 1963 structure is known for its white-tile facade and porthole-like windows.
"It was wonderful to hear every single commissioner defend historic districts, understand the implications for other districts if this kind of wholesale demolition was allowed, and to hear the chairman talk about going back to the drawing boards," says Peg Breen, president of the New York City Landmarks Conservancy. "There has to be a way that the hospital gets a better facility and retain the character of the historic district."
The fight isn't over yet. The hospital plans to seek a so-called hardship exemption. The Landmarks Commission has approved 12 such projects under the hardship exemption since 1965, according to spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.
"The reality is that the O'Toole site is the only location where we can build a fully efficient, state-of-the-art green hospital to serve the people of New York," said Henry J. Amoroso, president of the 159-year-old nonprofit St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, in a statement. "We are committed to continuing our more than 150-year mission of providing quality healthcare to an enormous number of New Yorkers, and we will return as soon as possible to the Landmarks Commission with a hardship application for the demolition of the O'Toole building."
Nevertheless, preservationists are calling Tuesday a victory.
"We are deeply gratified," says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "It was a strong rebuke of [the hospital's] plan, which they found to be fundamentally incompatible with landmarks preservation law. It basically said to [St. Vincent's], 'You are not exempted from landmarks regulations simply because of who you are.'"
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