By Tara Kyle
HELL'S KITCHEN — The architect behind the luxury redevelopment proposed for portions of a nearly 200-year-old Chelsea seminary unveiled preliminary building plans Wednesday night.
The debt-ridden General Theological Seminary (GTS), the world's oldest Anglican institution of its kind, announced last fall plans to sell off parts of its campus to the Brodsky Organization in order to ensure its survival.
The news sparked concerns around Chelsea because the landmarked institution's grassy enclave, bounded by Ninth and Tenth Avenues and 20th and 21st Streets, is a rare pocket of serenity in lower Manhattan. Moreover, GTS has a history of strained neighborhood relations.
Brodsky's lead architect, John H. Beyer of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, revealed preliminary plans Wednesday night for two properties — a portion of the schoolyard now used as a tennis court, and the historic West Building — to Community Board 4's landmarks committee.
"The idea is to use contemporary touches while we pick up significant historical gestures," said Beyer, calling the GTS campus "probably one of the most special parts of all of New York."
The proposed new building atop the tennis courts attracted mixed reviews from CB4 members. Critics took issue with the seventh floor, which includes elevator equipment on the set-back rooftop, as well as two duplex apartments that rise higher than the rest of the six-story building.
"That looks funky, and it looks out of scale," said committee chair Edward Kirkland. "Much of this is admirable, but things are bound to get difficult in this narrow space."
Other suggestions from members included aesthetic changes, including adjusting prominent chimneys, diminishing the size of a glass pathway from the street, and replacing a proposed gap in the campus' brownstone wall with a small gate.
Members did, however, praise the thoughtfulness behind the plans, which attempted to borrow design elements from the campus' current appearance. The new building includes details from the 1930s and 1950s, as do the current buildings, and incorporate similar materials including brownstone and brick. The window styles and ceiling heights would also remain similar to the current buildings.
Plans to restore and renovate the West Building, the oldest part of GTS still standing, aroused less controversy.
Beyer and Brodsky intend to strip the building of its wall of ivy, which while perhaps aesthetically pleasing to some neighbors, is contributing to the structure's decay.
"This is not an Ivy League institution, so the ivy is an intrusion," said Kirkland.
The plans also entail adding four doors to the south side of the building, but these, intended to provide apartment access to residents, would barely be visible from the street.
All current plans are preliminary and must still go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
"Absolutely there is a contrast between what we are doing and what was there before," Beyer said. "We have to be flexible and look at things creatively."
A set of townhouses on the campus known on Chelsea 2, 3, 4, and an apartment building across the street at 422 West 20th Street were also a part of the sale.