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Faced With Pending Destruction of Historic Buildings, Village Residents Hold Town Hall Meeting to Push City for Landmarking and Zoning Measures to Protect Neighborhood Before Year’s End

GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman addresses more than 200 Village residents and preservationists at a Town Hall meeting to push for landmarking in the Far West Village.

More than 200 Village residents and neighborhood preservationists turned out for a Town Hall meeting to hear about the latest demolition and development threats to the Far West Village, and the status of the effort to get the City to enact landmarking and re-zoning measures to preserve the area. The meeting was sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, and Community Board #2, and was hosted by GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman.

“We are here tonight because it is truly the 11th hour for our neighborhood,” stated Berman, who went on to cite seven historic buildings currently facing the prospect of demolition with new development on their sites. “We know that in the coming year, our neighborhood will either be preserved for posterity, or it will cease to exist as we know it,” added Berman.

The threatened sites include: an 1885 residential building at 178 Christopher Street; a vintage 1930s warehouse at 303 West 10th Street, an 1832 rowhouse (part of a row of three similar houses) at 163 Charles Street with a rear stable remodeled as a gallery by artist Vito Acconci which faces tiny cobblestoned Charles Lane; a 1919 former Nabisco cracker bakery at 70 Bethune Street; a former lead foundry and stable from 1897 at 397 West 12th Street; and a former factory and stable (the oldest factory in the area, dating from 1856) at 387 and 383 West 12th Street.

GVSHP and other community groups have proposed landmarking about 100 of the historic buildings in this approximately 12 block area, and a rezoning to impose stricter height and bulk limits for new construction, as a means to preserve the historic area’s character (for more information, CLICK HERE).

“The Far West Village is a neighborhood known the world over for its distinctive historic character,” said Berman. “It’s a look and feel you can’t re-create, and we are slowly destroying it due to a lack of landmark protections and appropriate zoning. This neighborhood has been asking for preservation measures from the City for more than 35 years. This is no longer an academic exercise — if the City doesn’t act quickly, there will be nothing left to save. In recent months the City has taken action to downzone other areas facing overdevelopment, and to landmark historic areas in need of protection, like the neighboring Gansevoort Market. No area cries out for and deserves this type of protection more than the Far West Village.”

It was noted at the Town Hall that the City has expressed some willingness to implement such measures, including a public commitment to undertake a rezoning based upon the principles of stricter height and bulk limits set by GVSHP, and a recent statement by the Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair that there was “momentum” within the administration for consideration of the preservation proposal for the area. But without firm commitments for action and a time frame for implementation, those assembled pointed out that more is still needed to save this neighborhood.

“We are getting very close,” noted Berman, referring to recent commitments and statements by the City indicating support for some of their proposals. “But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; the City must act soon, or 2005 will be the year we see the Far West Village destroyed forever.”

The Far West Village has seen a massive amount of construction over the last five years, including three identical glass and steel high-rise towers designed by celebrity architect Richard Meier, which include some of the most expensive new apartments in the City.

The campaign calling for landmarking and zoning changes has generated thousands of letters, postcards, and e-mails to the City, has won endorsements from citywide and statewide preservation groups and local elected officials, and has garnered an unusually high level of support from the actual property owners who would be regulated by the new measures, many of whom were at tonight’s Town Hall. Property owners are viewed as typically opponents of landmarking, but Berman pointed out that this is not so in this case. “Many owners in the Far West Village want to be landmarked; they bought and invested in property here because it had a historic feel, because it does not look like everywhere else. Not everyone wants to cash in on a real estate bonanza; some just want to live someplace they love, and keep it that way.”

Participants at the Town Hall signed and wrote letters to the Mayor, the Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair, and the Chair of the Department of City Planning, urging them to enact the proposed preservation measures as soon as possible. All participants were also given a packet to take home with them, which included a request fro support for the preservation plans to their block association, co-op/condo board, or any other civic or community group to which they belong, and sample letters to distribute to their neighbors to sign in support of the preservation plans.

Additionally, a giant holiday card to Mayor Bloomberg saying To: Mayor Bloomberg, From: the West Village. Season’s Greetings. All We Want for the Holidays is to Save Our Neighborhood was on hand which Town Hall participants signed. The card and hundreds of letters will be delivered to the Mayor at City Hall following a press conference which will be held on Monday, December 20, at 1 P.M.

State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Member Bill Perkins attended the Town Hall meeting, as did representatives of Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, City Council Member Quinn, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick.

Next: 12/20/04
Previous: 05/23/04

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