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Testimony Before Landmarks Preservation Commission On St. Vincent's Proposal

 

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which St. Vincent's Hospital ("St. Vincent's") and the Greenwich Village Historic District are located. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission ("LPC") today.

The applications before LPC are to garner Certificates of Appropriateness for the demolition of nine buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District and the construction of a new hospital, townhouses and apartment buildings in their place as well as the alteration of the current Materials Handling Center at 76 Greenwich ("The Triangle site").

First of all, let me say that this redevelopment proposal is large and unprecedented, and is understandably one of great concern to me and my constituents. The demolition of nine buildings, regardless of what replaces them, will result in a significant change to the landscape of this historic district. I appreciate LPC dedicating an entire day to this process so that everyone who wants to speak may be heard. I also appreciate the applicants meeting early and frequently with myself, my colleagues and the community to present their plans and solicit our thoughts on this project. Moreover, I am grateful to the thousands of community members who have provided feedback regarding this project through numerous meetings, public hearings, letters, emails and the internet survey that I sponsored along with Congressmember Nadler and Community Board Two ("CB2").

St. Vincent's Hospital serves an area that stretches from the Battery all the way up the West Side to Hell's Kitchen, and houses the only Level 1 Trauma Center serving both the West Side and Lower Manhattan. I appreciate the services St. Vincent's has been providing to lower Manhattan for over 150 years and believe its vitality is critically important for this community. I am sympathetic to the need for a new state-of-the-art hospital; however, I have reservations about the current applications.

In its March 20, 2008 resolution to LPC, CB2 laid out a thoughtful critique of this proposal, calling for the preservation of several historically significant buildings, careful consideration of others planned to be demolished, and the submission by the applicant of new plans for review as to their appropriateness. While I do not completely concur with the Board's resolution, I would like to emphasize for LPC my shared concerns.

As does CB2, I believe the Smith Raskob, Nurses Residence, Reiss and Spellman buildings are worthy of preservation. These buildings were built between 1924-1954, are composed of brick and limestone and are all individually listed in the Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report. The report states that despite their size, they "generally conform with the houses in the adjoining streets." Nurses Residence is of particular note, with its decorated arched windows, ornamental metal marquee over the front door, and its terracotta ornament of the side door.

I am also greatly concerned about the appropriateness of the buildings proposed to replace the ones listed above, as well as the Link, Coleman and Cronin buildings, which are also slated to be demolished. In particular, I feel that the proposed 265' residential tower on Seventh Avenue is inappropriate for this historic district, which is known for the human scale of its buildings.

Like the residential building, the proposed new hospital building will be visible from quite a distance and will drastically change the skyline of this area. Though I understand that it is not the purview of LPC to consider use, nevertheless, I cannot dismiss the fact that this facility will provide life-saving medical care for much of my Senate District. Even the designation report states, "These hospital buildings [on W. 12th Street] perform a useful function for the entire community." I appreciate the great care that the architects took in drawing up plans for the hospital, as its unique design shows sensitivity to the surrounding neighbors. Although it does not blend in with the surrounding buildings in shape or orientation, it is an attempt to lessen the impact of the bulkiness of the building. I am not qualified to comment on the medical need for the configuration of the building and will take St. Vincent's word that the proposed hospital building offers the most efficient way to fulfill its mission of providing medical care with respect, integrity, compassion and excellence.

As for the Triangle Site, alteration to the Material's Handling Center appears appropriate but the open space in the adjacent areas needs to be fleshed out in more detail. St. Vincent's has not kept its promise to provide and maintain this open space and should work with the community in the future to shape more detailed plans.

I am not opposed to improvements and changes to this neighborhood as long as they are appropriate to its distinctive, historic character. I greatly appreciate St. Vincent's convening a Working Group and attending numerous meetings, along with providing tours. I believe throughout this time, St. Vincent' and Rudin Development, LLC have heard loud and clear that preservation has been ignored and the proposed buildings are too tall and bulky and I, therefore, cannot support the applications in their current state. I believe that the goals and mission of the hospital can be balanced with concerns of the community and will continue to work with the applicants, the community, my colleagues and LPC toward that end. Thank you for allowing me to testify today and for your consideration of my recommendations.