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MAS Testifies at Landmarks Preservation Commission on 215 West 57th Street

art students league of nyOn October 22, after a long and lively public hearing, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted (6-1) to approve a cantilever over the landmarked Art Students League building. The cantilever is part of Extell’s 215 West 57th Street development, a 1,400 foot tall building that will house a hotel and condos above Nordstrom’s. This building is essentially as-of-right except for the applications to cantilever over the landmark and restore storefronts on the landmarked 1780 and 1790 Broadway buildings. Almost 30 people testified at the hearing. The opponents included MAS, the Landmarks Conservancy, HDC, Landmarks West, some neighborhood residents and individual members of the Art Students League (ASL). The speakers in favor included staff and members of ASL, a representative of the Hotel Union, AIA New York chapter, and a devoted Nordstrom’s shopper. MAS’ testimony emphasized our concern that there has been no public planning or review process for any of the six hyper tall towers to be located within a few blocks of each other along or near 57th Street. Each of the buildings is as-of-right, but used “excess” development rights from existing buildings elsewhere on the block. Consequently, there has been no environmental review for these projects, which would have disclosed to the public information regarding potential shadows on Central Park and conflicts related to transportation and construction. Generally speaking, MAS supports as-of-right development but we believe that these 1,000+ feet tall towers are unintended consequences of older zoning that did not contemplate such tall heights, mid-block sites and small floor plates. Understanding that LPC’s jurisdiction is quite narrow in this instance, MAS highlighted potential issues related to the proposed cantilever, including inadvertent environmental problems that storms, rain and snow could cause to the roof of the delicate and aged Art Students League building. We and others expressed concern about the effect of the glass tower on the light in the artists’ studios. There was concern about the effect construction would have on the programming at the landmark and possible loss of membership during that period. Many expressed concern about the visual intrusion of the cantilever over the landmark. Those in favor of the project testified that the cantilever would be invisible and would not be detrimental to the landmark or the studios’ light; in support of the new department store; that the money that ASL would receive from Extell would be sufficient to support their programs and building well into the 21st century. After the hearing, the Commission approved the cantilever, with a majority of the Commissioners (six present) stating that they believe that because the cantilever is almost 300’ from the street, it will not be visible in the same viewing plane as the ASL. One Commissioner, Michael Goldblum, voted against the cantilever.