Developer Clears Hurdles for Demolition of Historic Building



A proposed sketch of the 10-story glass building that will replace the 60-year-old structure on West 13th street. The office building will include some retail outlets. Photo: Provided by Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

A project for a new 175-foot tall office building located in the heart of the Meatpacking District that has been stalled for the past two years may be finally on its way to getting completed, according to a preservation group whose main purpose is to stop the demolition of the space.

The 60-year-old building, located at 437-51 West 13th Street, at the corner of Washington Street, was originally supposed to be included in the New York City Gansevoort Market Historic District, which would have prevented demolition. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for “dubious reasons” removed the building from the district at the last minute. Darryl Romanoff, the main developer in the project, has said there is no timetable for the start of the demolition.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which is spearheading efforts to stop construction in the area, says the Meatpacking District is not going to be compromised because of developers who don’t have the neighborhood’s best interests at heart.

Included in the proposed glass office towers is a two-story retail space located at the base of the tower. Proponents say it will continue the transformation of the once grimy neighborhood into a high-end retail space that will complement that the existing shops and nightclubs that currently occupy the area. Romanoff said the community as a whole is pleased with the project and added that it doesn’t destroy the area, but instead complements it and his company will move forward with the project despite resistance.

Critics charge that the building is almost 25 percent bigger than what current zoning laws in that area allow for.  The 20,000 square feet of retail space being discussed is twice the amount currently allowed under zoning laws.  But in fact, the Board of Standards and Appeals, which is an independent city board, voted two years ago to ease the zoning laws specifically to let Romanoff’s company to build on the site.  At that time, Romanoff had to present a different version to the board from the 215-foot tall building he originally wanted to the current 175-foot tower and gave no timetable for demolition and declined to answer about why it has taken two years for the project to get off the ground.

Barry Foster-Watts, a resident who says he has lived in the area since the mid-1980’s thinks the current “flow” of the neighborhood would change.  “I am not sure what this building does for the area. It definitely looks like some backdoor deals were being made,” he said.

Berman said it would be a shame to lose the building because of its status and listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. “The proposed new development is also sadly out of character for the neighborhood, and it is dumbfounding that the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals would grant them even a small variance to allow the building to be larger than the underlying zoning allows,” he said. “We are gratified that through hard work and advocacy, we were able to get the size of the variance, and the new building which will result, significantly reduced.”

The preservation society’s hands may be tied as far as the next step as Berman said that the group’s policy does not allow them to take legal action.  “What are the community boards for if we can’t get anything done? The city just picks and chooses what it wants to do without listening to us,” Foster-Watts said.

Calls and emails for comment to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, New York City Board of Standards and Appeals and the New York City Planning Office were unsuccessful.