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Board Blasts Astor Place Plaza Design as Too 'Park Avenue'

A rendering of the building's public plaza, which Community Board 3 felt didn't pay enough tribute to the area's historic character.
A rendering of the building's public plaza, which Community Board 3 felt didn't pay enough tribute to the area's historic character.
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Edward J. Minskoff Equities

ASTOR PLACE — Is this the East Village or the East 70s?

That’s the question Community Board 3 asked the developer behind a new office project that includes construction of a pedestrian plaza in the historic heart of Astor Place.

During a presentation on the plan Monday night, CB 3 committee members and local residents criticized developer Edward J. Minskoff Equities proposal, which seeks to place a triangular plaza adjacent to a new office tower at 51 Astor Pl,, calling the design inappropriate for the area and not respectful of its centuries-old history.

The current plan, unveiled last month by landscape architect Thomas Balsley, features a modern design that includes plantings, lighting, seating and an open layout that encourages pedestrians to pass through the space.

But some neighbors and committee members thought the “ultra-modern” design “looks like something on Park Avenue” and would clash with the neighborhood’s historic character.

They blasted the plan for not including historic nods to the area’s connection to nearby Stuyvesant Street, a short ribbon of road that defies the borough's grid system and dates back more than 350 years.

Advocates said the corridor stretching from Stuyvesant Street into Astor Place has remained intact for centuries — it once acted as a a Native American trail and later a link between Peter Stuyvesant’s former lands — and they stressed the importance of recognizing that history in the design.

“It’s a matter of respect,” said Marilyn Appleberg, of the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association, which has long advocated that the historic corridor maintain a direct connection to Astor Place.

The plaza, at the corner of Third Avenue and Astor Place, follows all the regulations established by the Department of City Planning in 2007, even though the developer bought the land in 2002 and could have been exempt from the 2007 rules.

Balsley defended the current design, saying it does maintain the connection to Stuyvesant Street. He explained that the plaza was envisioned as a space that would “expand that area of movement” between Astor Place and the larger East Village by featuring open design elements seeking to capture the area’s heavy foot traffic.

The plaza, which will abut the office tower’s future retail spaces, “fosters social seating and social interaction” by not delineating between the sidewalk and public space, Balsley said.

It will also include wooden benches with seating on either side, strips of lighting embedded in the pavement, trees and a flower bed, bike racks, and a piece of public art.

Committee member Damaris Reyes said the plaza should “salute that history in our community” by featuring historical markers and other tributes to the Astor Place-Stuyvesant Street connection — representing the link between the farmlands Peter Stuyvesant purchased from the Dutch West India Company in 1651.

Ultimately, the committee voted to pen a letter to City Planning Commission chairwoman Amanda Burden saying it would oppose the current the design unless its adds more historic references in terms of orientation and materials used.

‘It breaks my heart,” said Appleberg, noting that nearby Abe Lebewohl Park, on the eastern end of tiny Stuyvesant Street near Second Avenue, pays tribute to the past through its alignment and historical features.

"I think we need to fight for it."