Proposed Canal Street Building Is Tough Sell at Community Board 1

Rendering of the proposed nine-story building at 312-322 Canal Street, looking west. It is located next to the former Pearl Paint buildings that are slated for residential conversion. Rendering: Paul A. Castrucci Architect 

May. 19, 2017

UPDATE 6/6/17: At the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing Tuesday on the proposed building, the commissioners echoed the Community Board 1's dissatisfaction with the design and took no vote on it.  

Architects came before Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee with their proposed design for a new residential building on a landmarked stretch of Canal Street in Tribeca. The 102-foot-wide, nine-story red-brick structure at 312-322 Canal would be a prominent addition to a street of mostly 19th-century low-rise, narrow buildings between Broadway and Church.

It was a painfully tough sell.

The plan goes before the Landmarks Preservation Commission next month (see update above), and in a detailed presentation last week to the committee, which is advisory to the commission, Andrew Vann of Paul Castrucci Architect took pains to convince the committee that it would make a fitting neighbor in the Tribeca East Historic District. The design and detailing take their cues from both cast iron and masonry buildings in the area, he said, and the height is “somewhere in the middle” of others in the district.

“There are a lot of varying heights but it’s not like there aren’t any really tall buildings,” Vann said, referring to buildings on nearby blocks.

The committee saw it differently. Its chair Bruce Ehrmann, for example, called the building’s scale “a punch in the stomach.”

“I’m really upset by it,” Megan McHugh remarked, almost mournfully, after noting that she thought the structure could be anywhere in the city. Alice Blank, an architect, said the design reminded her of a Hilton Garden. Marc Ameruso called the view of the building from Mercer Street “horrible.”

According to architectural renderings, that view down Mercer Street toward Canal would be dominated by one of the building’s most distinctive features, a stair and elevator tower on its eastern side that is meant to recall the windowless shaftways of industrial loft buildings. Vann characterized the tower as “a nice high point in that location” and “an opportunity to do something emphatic yet sensitive to the neighborhood. We want to mark that as a location in the city.”

Ehrmann described it as “catastrophic.”

“Just to have this blank stair tower on that great view,” he said, “is astonishingly bad.”

The committee, and later the full board, voted unanimously to oppose the design.

The proposed building, planned for 19 apartments including eight duplexes, would replace an empty two-story structure that is the remnant of what originally were five separate two-and-a-half story residences built in 1825. Since 2008, the building has maintained a single facade. In 2011, the LPC rejected the owners plan to refurbish it as a continued retail use.

This latest proposed building would block the north-facing windows of nine-story 45 Lispenard Street, and the residents made their own opposing arguments to the committee in a 30-minute presentation.

Marissa Marvelli, a preservation consultant hired by the co-op, extolled the uniqueness of the Canal Street block between Broadway and Church as the only one on the street that has maintained its early 19th-century character. A building the size of the one proposed, she maintained, “would never have been built on this shallow mid-block site.”

Marvelli was followed by a trio of residents who spoke of landmark inappropriateness, fear of collateral construction damage to their building (“My 18 households are scared!” began co-op president Peter Clevenger) and a claim that the new building would be too “normal” for the neighborhood.

“This proposal threatens to choke the air out of our street,” Cydney Cort said, “sucking up and normalizing everything that makes it special in Tribeca.”

“Clearly I’m an interested party. I’ll lose my views. I’ll lose my sunlight,” Cort acknowledged. “But I’ll also lose the din of traffic off of Canal Street.”

“I’m looking for a silver lining here,” she added.