Proposal to modify Chelsea building is rejected



A plan to modify a low-rise building on West 22nd Street fails. Photo: Madis Kabash.

At a Community Board 4 meeting on September 18, the Chelsea Land Use Committee rejected a proposal to modify a low-rise building at 500 W. 22nd Street. The board concluded that more substantial preservation efforts needed to be presented before new plans could be approved and construction could begin.

The red-brick building includes two four-story residential townhouses and a ground floor for commercial space that’s currently unoccupied. The design proposal — presented by Selldorf Architects, a firm hired by Brentwood Capital, the building owners — expanded the residential area by eight stories, creating 10 large, luxury apartments, while retaining the building’s existing facade. The committee denied the proposal since it didn’t adhere to certain architectural standards the community board is trying to preserve.

The firm’s rendering modified the building under a plan called Alteration 1, which permits major changes to the existing structure as long as the facade remains. Façadism, an architectural term used to describe this type of reconstruction, was one of the criteria for the new plans.

“We were tasked to keep the facade,” said Mellissa Rivers, the architect presenting the proposal, who, seemingly disappointed in the committee’s decision, added that the firm adhered to the preservation guidelines.

The building had previously been approved for demolition by the Department of Buildings. But in March 2016, CLUC sent a request to DOB asking to revoke the approval, citing false filings made on behalf of Brentwood Capital. The demolition was halted and now Brentwood Capital needs the committee to approve a new plan in order to proceed with Alteration 1.

At the meeting, committee members looked at printouts of the plan and a model of the building. The proposed changes included the addition of four stories in contrasting black brick, an extension to the back of the property, and a ground floor with glass vitrines.

Architect David Holowka, a CLUC and Save Chelsea member, said there is “nothing particularly historic about the brick,” referring to the building’s existing facade. He added, however, the windows on the model would be seen as black in daylight, making the building seem like a “big block.”

Lily Fan, another committee member, said the new plan gives the impression that there had been too many design negotiations, and as a result the building would look like “some crazy drama happened here.”

Longtime Chelsea resident Mim Solberg, who lives in an adjacent townhouse, said she is “glad the community board was respectful” of the building, and “hopes something more restorative will take it’s place.”

Not everyone was critical of the proposal.

Nathan Rodney, a local resident who moved into the area a year ago, said he likes the construction plan and is more concerned about the impact the renovation will have on affordable housing. “If it’s luxury apartments it may raise the rent in the area,” he said.

Holowka later said the plan Selldorf Architects presented was the “first of this type I’ve ever encountered.” He fears that a trend toward façadism, which he said was an almost obsolete approach to preserving buildings, is becoming more common in Manhattan. Holowka said a good example of preservation is the Porter House, another luxury residential development, which combines contemporary architecture with historic elements.

CLUC member Joe Restuccia complained about the board’s preservation attempts and feels the group has been “fighting to get the West Chelsea district, everything west of 11th for 15 years,” he said.

Although this proposal was declined, preservation efforts haven’t always worked in favor of the board, as evidenced by the near demolition of 500 W. 22nd and the significant expansion of Chelsea’s oldest building at 404 West 22nd, where everything but the facade is being demolished.

The architects at Selldorf Architects and Brentwood Capital left the meeting without comment.  A date to present a new proposal from them has not been planned.