NEWS AND ISSUES


Testimony Before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's Hearing On Certificates Of Appropriateness for Block 718, Lot 1
(General Theological Seminary)

June 21, 2011

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which the General Theological Seminary (GTS) is located. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) today.

The block under consideration today, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, and West 20th and 21st Streets, lies at the heart of the Chelsea Historic District, which was created in 1970. GTS is an integral part of the Historic District, Chelsea and New York City. However, this important institution is in a period of financial instability and in order for it to remain in our community, this new proposal, along with the sale of various buildings to the Brodsky Organization, is financially necessary.

The application before LPC is to garner Certificates of Appropriateness for renovation of GTS' West Building and the construction of an adjacent residential building on West 20th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. The new residential building will lie directly to the west of the West Building and occupy the approximate footprint of the current tennis court.

As Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) has noted in its resolution on this application, the proposed restoration of the West Building is both thoughtful and sensitive, and I appreciate the architects' respect for this important historical building. However, I have several concerns about the proposed adjacent residential building, a slightly different version of which came before LPC in 2007. When I testified before LPC about the original proposal, I said it was "appropriately sized, fits within the pattern of the block, and employs a design that blends well with the preexisting buildings on the street." Unfortunately this description does not apply to this iteration, primarily because of its additional bulk. Instead of a six-story building, the applicant has now proposed a seven-story building with heavy rectangular massing that disturbs the balance of the campus. The West Building was designed to be the heart of the Seminary, and adding significant bulk directly adjacent to the West Building will shift attention away from it, which will be a particular loss given its forthcoming renovation.

My other concerns, which I also noted in my 2007 testimony, apply to the passageway that will connect the proposed residential building and the West Building. Made entirely of glass, it is an alien form to West 20th Street. It is also disturbingly effective in destroying the independence of the West Building, which should stand alone as an example of the block's earliest architectural tradition. This is inevitable, however, as its primary purpose is to connect the new building with the West Building, thereby circumventing regulations prohibiting the close proximity of the two structures. While in the original application, this passageway was to serve as a major entrance to the Seminary campus, this is no longer the case as the buildings have been sold to the Brodsky Organization and will be for private residential use only. Now more than ever I believe that this passageway does not belong in the Chelsea Historic District.

New construction in a neighborhood with such a rich architectural history requires a humble respect for the styles, materials and low-scale nature that exist without stifling new and creative architecture. This balance is difficult to achieve, but I know it is possible and I encourage the applicant to consider the concerns listed above in order to achieve that goal.

Thank you for allowing me to testify today and for your consideration of my recommendations.


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