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Testimony Of New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane Before The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's Hearing On Certificates Of Appropriateness For The St. Vincent's Hospital Redevelopment

 

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 modifications of four hospital buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District to accommodate a new residential use, the alteration of the current Materials Handling Center at 76 Greenwich (The Triangle site), the demolition of four buildings and the construction of townhouses and apartment buildings in their place, as well as a hardship application for the demolition of the O'Toole building and a Certificate of Appropriateness for a new hospital in its place.

St. Vincent's has been an integral part of Greenwich Village since 1849 and I appreciate the need for a new state-of-the-art hospital. Consequently, I support the revised applications for Certificates of Appropriateness that are before LPC; however, I share many of the same concerns and questions that Manhattan Community Board 2 laid out in its June 19, 2008 resolution.

In my April 1, 2008 testimony, I stated that the Smith Raskob, Nurse's Residence and Spellman buildings are historically relevant and embody the evolution of St. Vincent's Hospital. I appreciate that the Rudin family carefully listened to the concerns of me, my colleagues, LPC, and the community by making every effort to preserve these buildings in their revised plans. The careful consideration of the historical and cultural significance of these buildings in the revised plans is worth noting; however, in my earlier testimony, I advocated for the preservation of the Reiss building as well. Although it may be noncontributing when viewed alone, its simple red brick design completes the picture of this block. I, along with CB2, continue to believe this building is worthy of preservation. If the building cannot be preserved, I ask that the Rudin family heed CB2's request for a reduction in height of the building proposed to replace Reiss.

I also expressed concern in my previous testimony over the height and bulk of the proposed residential tower on 7th Avenue. The building’s reduction in width by 60 feet and reduction in height by 30 feet creates a scale closer to the buildings currently existing at this site, but is still much larger and glassier than the small, intimate structures in the surrounding area. The community continues to express concerns regarding the modifications and additions to the east side of 7th Avenue and I encourage the Rudin family to maintain an open dialogue with CB2 to discuss the details of the proposal.

As I have stated before, I cannot dismiss the fact that St. Vincent's Hospital provides life-saving medical care for much of my Senate District. The architects have designed the proposed new hospital building with setbacks, an ovoid shape, and a diagonal orientation to lessen the impact of the required bulkiness of this building and have further created more light and air for the surrounding neighborhood by reducing the building by 9% in the revised proposal. While it continues to be tall, bulky and oddly shaped, I maintain that St. Vincent's has compellingly argued 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 hardship application for the demolition of the O’Toole building, I believe that the only financially feasible option for St. Vincent’s to build a new state-of-the-art hospital results in the demolition of this architecturally significant building. Proximity and easy accessibility to emergency care is extremely important and it is essential to keep St. Vincent's in Greenwich Village; however, due to the large plot of land needed for the footprint of the hospital and the large expense and limited availability of real estate, St. Vincent’s has very limited options. Arguably, O'Toole has the richest history of all the hospital buildings and is a unique and remarkable structure. However, this is an exceptional case of a life-saving facility needing to grow due to the lack of emergency health care options in the area and the ever advancing field of medicine. No other facility within a historic district can make such a claim and, therefore, I do not believe a dangerous precedent will be set. Not everyone is convinced of this argument, however, and I request that LPC and St. Vincent's make every effort to answer the questions laid out in CB2’s resolution in order to provide the community with the information it needs to support this application without hesitation. I want to thank LPC for calling on experts in an advisory capacity to provide guidance on these complicated applications and I am confident that all relevant questions will be considered carefully during this process.

St. Vincent's and the Rudin family have obviously heard loud and clear that preservation had not been a priority in the previous plans and the proposed buildings were too tall and bulky. The current applications are not perfect, but they are a direct response to those concerns and I appreciate the great strides the applicants have made recently. Although it is not within LPC’s purview, St. Vincent's and the Rudin family have also responded to concerns regarding the overcrowding of schools in Community District 2 and have facilitated an agreement between the School Construction Authority and the Foundling Hospital to create a much-needed elementary school. I hope St. Vincent’s and the Rudin family will continue to evaluate the needs of the community as this project moves to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. While I have some reservations about the height, bulk and design of the project, I believe the revised proposal responds to major preservation concerns expressed by LPC and the community. For that reason, I support the current applications before LPC and I look forward to continued discussions on the details of this massive proposal. Thank you for allowing me to testify today and for your consideration of my recommendations.