Residents, LPC Tell Team Behind Greenpoint Proposal to ‘Go Back to the Drawing Board’

Rendering by PKSB

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Despite an energetic effort, the architects behind a proposal to build a six-story apartment building in the Greenpoint Historic District faced a fair amount of pushback from commissioners and residents alike at a public hearing Tuesday.

“I don’t favor tweaking the design,” said Commissioner John Gustafsson, capturing the general atmosphere of the room. “They need to go back to the drawing board.”

Sherida Paulson, chair of the LPC from 2001 to 2003 and current principal at PKSB, the architects behind the project, was hoping for a different result. She started out her presentation with an anecdote about traveling in India, doing yoga, and the idea of “giving thanks” —- meant to celebrate the work of the commission, and perhaps hoping the warm sentiments would translate into a favorable decision.

But it was not so. Proposed for 171 Calyer Street, at the corner of Lorimer, the six-story red brick building felt, according to residents who testified, out of scale and character for the surrounding neighborhood.

“The development is a stark mismatch for the historic profile of Greenpoint,” said Ben Dietz, who lives across the street from the site. Aside from changing the nature of the block, it would also bring more “traffic, noise and waste” to the block, something which had not been sufficiently addressed by the developer, he said.

The hearing attracted an unexpected number of residents of the historic district — 11 provided testimony, while others came simply to show support.

The site in 2014. Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

Trina McKeever, the Landmarks Subcommittee Chair for CB1 and a resident of Greenpoint for 30 years, said she felt the premise of the proposal was flawed. The architects used the former Greenpoint Theater, which existed on the site but was demolished long before the designation of the district in 1982, as well as a series of non-contributing buildings in the neighborhood, some of them outside the district, as the justification for scale. This was echoed by other residents, along with representatives for Council Member Stephen Levin (who himself made an appearance late in the meeting to show his support) and Representative Brian Kavanagh, who all voiced their misgivings about approval of the proposal.

Commissioners joined in on the chorus. “We need to be more thoughtful of the precedents we use,” said Fred Bland, who also, along with other commissioners, questioned materials used in the design. “[The building] is too high at its highest point, and too white at its highest point,” he added, criticizing the top floors of the building, which other commissioners said was “out of character” and “jarring.”

Both residents and commissioners were not against building something on the site, where currently a one-story building that formerly housed a supermarket stands. But it must be respectful of the historic character of the area, they said. “What is a historic landmark designation if it does not protect the neighborhood from inappropriate developments and renovations?” asked Katherine Thomson, who moved to a home on Calyer Street in 1976. They followed the rules, she added. “We hope others will have to do the same.”

[Renderings by PKSB via New York Landmarks Commission]

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