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Gansevoort Street Developers Get Rude Greeting From Neighbors

 BKSK is designing four new buildings for the south side of Gansevoort Street betwee Ninth Avenue and Washington Street.
BKSK is designing four new buildings for the south side of Gansevoort Street betwee Ninth Avenue and Washington Street.
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BKSK Architects

MEATPACKING DISTRICT — Just 10 minutes into describing a new Gansevoort Street development, the architect's presentation was already going off the rails.

Harry Kendall, a partner at BKSK Architects, broke off mid-sentence from the first slide and turned to a cluster of women.

“Don’t shake your head,” he urged, offering an anecdote about his jury duty service that morning.

“The underlying basis of our justice system is innocent until proven guilty,” he said, drawing a few laughs before the women interrupted with a chorus of “Guilty!”

Kendall said it was “disconcerting” and “unkind” of the women to judge his plan so quickly.

“You’re taking our view and our sky and our water,” one of the women snapped. “That’s unkind.”

BKSK is redesigning the entire southern side of Gansevoort Street from Ninth Avenue to Washington Street. Its mandate, from property owners William Gottlieb Real Estate and Aurora Capital Associates, is to turn a row of squat structures into five buildings up to eight stories tall.

Last Tuesday, Kendall presented — and defended — the company's plans in an office above Gansevoort Market, one of the buildings included in the project.

The meeting represented Aurora's attempt to woo skeptical locals, who had loosely organized under the banner Save Gansevoort.

“We're hoping to position the block as multiple luxury retail tenants,” said Jared Epstein of Aurora, the developer of several buildings nearby including one on Ninth Avenue where a construction worker was killed in April.

“Gansevoort Street has been a blight on the community,” Epstein continued to gasps and grumbling. “There’s nightclubs there. There are buildings that have been boarded up.”

Here's what they have planned for Gansevoort Street:

The two-story structure at 46-48 Gansevoort St., on the corner of Ninth Avenue, will only get “cleaned up” and have “extraneous signage” removed, explained architect Todd Poisson. The triangular glassy structure on the roof is an existing “giant skylight” that will remain.

50 Gansevoort will grow to three stories from two. The windows give the appearance of four stories, but Poisson said there are three, with 15-foot-high ceilings on the bottom two floors and 14-foot-high ones on the third.

The heights provided do not include the mechanicals rooms on the roofs of each building, which each measure about 10 feet.

52-58 includes the Gansevoort Market building, which held a massive bustling meat market for nearly 200 years and reopened as a gourmet food court about a year ago. It will close for good in October 2016. Restaurateur Keith McNally has signed a lease for most of the space, where he will re-open Pastis.

Epstein envisions a “SoulCycle or Flywheel or art gallery” on the second floor above McNally’s eatery. Other buildings might hold an auction house, he said, like Sotheby’s.

60-68 will rise from 27 feet to 78 feet tall, and 70-74 will reach 111 feet, heights that drew disapproving murmurs from attendees. Both will appear less tall from the street, Poisson said. Up to the roof of the fifth floor of 60-68 measures 64 feet high, with a sixth floor set back from the edge of the building on both sides. 70-74 measures 83 feet to the roof of the sixth floor, with two set-back stories on top, each with 14-foot ceilings.

Poisson said many of his designs were informed by the surrounding area’s history and appearance. For example, the restored marquee awnings on each of the buildings will be made of a lacework of aluminum to recall the railway that once ran along Ninth Avenue, and the top two setback floors of 70-74 are curved and mostly in wood over glass windows, inspired by the city's iconic water towers.

The most vocal opponents said they live on Horatio Street, with the backs of their buildings facing the new Aurora development.

These locals are homeowners who “specifically bought in a landmark district.” They derided the designs as out of context for the neighborhood, but were equally insistent that the buildings would bring down their property values and impact their access to “light and sky and air” and views of the water.

BKSK has experience working in historic districts. Kendall said the company “loves the constraints that come with historic districts.”

“We think that contemporary architecture only gains by appropriateness tests, dictum to draw inspiration from the history of a site, from the surroundings of that site,” he said.

Ultimately, BKSK’s design must win the approval of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. This is of little comfort for the Horatio Street residents, and anyone else with a similar gripe, because LPC doesn’t consider private views.

Kendall referenced “two informal meetings” with “senior landmarks staff [who] channel previous decisions by the commissioners” and provide insight as to what would and would not win LPC approval.

“They were very positive,” Kendall said. “The meetings have been upbeat.”

The LPC has not yet scheduled a hearing for BKSK’s plan.

As the meeting drew to a close, Brooke Schafran, the PR representative handling the project, told the crowd the developers had expected a good deal of acrimony at the meeting.

“To be quite honest," she said, “we did not really expect a different opinion.”

Epstein then spoke from the doorway: “Don’t give me the finger, sweetheart.”

Heads turned.

It appeared a now-smirking Horatio Street resident had upped the ante.

“I think we're done,” Schafran said. “I don't think we need to resort to flipping the bird.”