By Roland Li
The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved on Tuesday New York University’s application for landscaping changes to the landmarked Silver Towers site, clearing the first hurdle for the school’s four-building expansion plan.
“This is an appropriate restoration,” said Robert Tierney, chairman of the L.P.C., who added that the modifications were modest and they would strengthen the landmarked site. Six L.P.C. commissioners unanimously voted in favor of the changes.
N.Y.U.‘s plan will create a dog run and toddler playground on the southeast side of the superblock, which is bounded by LaGuardia Place, Bleecker Street, Mercer Street, and West Houston Street. The dog run will replace an existing dog run on the northwest corner of Mercer and Houston Streets.
N.Y.U. will also restore original light fixtures and provide new landscape architecture, including the creation of a Greene Street walkway. In a minor modification, the L.P.C. requested that the university restudy the northern part of the playground to retain a flat lawn or soft landscaping.
Eleven people testified at a hearing on Tuesday, according to L.P.C. spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon.
Kyle Johnson, a board member of the New York/Tristate chapter of Docomomo, a modern architecture preservation group, commended N.Y.U. for restoring landscaping elements and replacing the original light fixtures. However, he said the elements of the new playground would negatively alter the original site, and called for the preservation of the street grid, which could be jeopardized by the relocation of the Greene Street walkway. Six representatives from the Historic Districts Council, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Community Board 2 opposed the plan.
“It’s disappointing that the commission seemed to accept everything that N.Y.U. offered at face value,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. He said it was unusual how quickly the L.P.C. acted on the proposal.
Although Berman has said that he was interested in some of the changes, particularly the restoration of original features in the site, his group opposes the shifting of the existing dog run, which would open the site to new development. N.Y.U. is also seeking to acquire city-owned strips of land for open space, a move that local residents and elected officials have fiercely opposed.
Four people testified on Tuesday in favor of the plan, including Tricia Martin, president of the New York Chapter of the Society of Landscape Architects, a representative of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. A representative from Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the architects of Silver Towers, also voiced support.
George Miller, a managing partner at the firm, wrote a letter in early March, describing the landscaping plan as “positive improvements” that “respect the landmark status of the site.” He had previously come out against N.Y.U.’s original plan to build a new tower on the site, which led to the school’s withdrawal of the proposal. The bulk of the tower has been shifted to a new building planned on the corner of LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street.
N.Y.U. officials expressed gratitude for the decision.
“Today’s approval is an initial step toward N.Y.U.’s overall proposed plans for the superblocks, plans which call for adding some density, but also introducing significant new landscape and public open space amenities for residents of the blocks, as well as the neighborhood,” said Alicia Hurley, vice president of at N.Y.U., in a statement. “We hope today’s decision is an indication of confidence in our design team and in our vision for the superblocks.”
A public hearing on the expansion plan at the Department of City Planning is scheduled in May.