Glass Building on Williamsburg's Only Historic Block Gets Landmarks Nod

By Serena Dai on August 13, 2014 12:23pm | Updated on August 13, 2014 12:49pm

WILLIAMSBURG — The Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved a controversial plan to erect a glass preschool building on Williamsburg's only protected historic block, according to a spokeswoman — but the building still needs zoning approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals.

The LPC ruled that new designs of the for-profit private School of Fillmore Place, which plans to build a three-story modern building in a vacant lot at 2 Fillmore Place at Driggs Avenue, are appropriate for the Fillmore Place Historic District, a 29-property area landmarked in 2009.

However, the LPC said that its approval is conditional on the city's Board of Standards and Appeals also approving the school's bid to change the existing zoning for the property to allow them to tack on an additional classroom, according to the school's attorney Richard Lobel.

LPC couldn't immediately confirm that the approval was contingent on the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Under the current zoning regulations, the school would be able to fit 47 students, ages 2 to 6, Lobel said. With their requested change, the school could add an additional classroom and a rooftop playground, tacking on an additional 30 students for a total of 77.

The school's education director Kim Turnbull said without the added zoning, they won't be able to be to offer a sliding scale tuition for lower-income families.

"If we get the variance, we can do sliding scale tuition," she said. "If we don’t, it will be too tight budget-wise."

The proposal sparked an outcry at Tuesday night's Community Board 1 meeting from locals who hoped blocking the variance would halt the development. The building doesn't fit in with the charm of the street and will increase traffic, residents said.

Many of the three-story, multi-family buildings in the street were built in the mid-1800s and designed in the Italianate style, with brick facades and stone door hoods.

Author Henry Miller, who lived on the block in 1891, memorialized it in "The Tropic of Capricorn," calling it "the most enchanting street I have ever seen in all my life," according to the city's landmark designation report.

"A modern, mostly glass structure that has more to do with the movie theater down the block than our landmarked block," said resident Dan Tompkins.

Opponents also expressed concern about traffic in an area that already has bike lanes, delivery trucks and a bus routes, saying that a zoning variance should not be allowed.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso voiced his dissent as well, noting that it would hurt "the context of the block."

"It’s probably one of the most beautiful blocks in Williamsburg," he said.

The plan will go before CB1's land use committee later this month before heading to the full board in September, where the board will take a vote that will be considered by the Board of Standards and Appeals.

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