On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the proposal for 121 Chambers Street, signing off on plans for the Civil War-era building in TriBeCa to grow by two stories and double its residential unit count.
121 Chambers Street, also known as 103 Reade Street, is a through-block building situated between Church Street and West Broadway. The Italianate-style structure was built as a store and loft building between 1860 and 1861. It fell under the LPC’s jurisdiction in 1992, with the designation of the Tribeca South Historic District.
The mixed-use building currently has four residential units, according to city records. The plan is to add two set-back stories to the building, which will allow that count to grow to eight. Two retail stores will occupy space in the sub-cellar and cellar, as well as the first floor. The residential units, a mix of duplex and full-floor apartments, would occupy the floors above. One store will occupy the Chambers Street side of the building while the other would share the Reade Street side of the building with the residential entrance. Chinatown-based architect Joseph Pell Lombardi is the architect of record.
The expansion also comes with a full restoration of the existing structure, which will be handled mostly at the LPC staff level. It includes replacement of all windows, restoration of vault lights, reconfiguration of storefronts, and removal of of the fire escape on Reade Street.
The application required both a certificate of appropriateness for the actual work as well as a “modification of use and bulk” under Section 74-711 of the zoning resolution. Basically, a building this narrow wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to grow that high, but the LPC can issue a report to the City Planning Commission recommending a waiver in exchange for the restoration.
Commissioner Michael Goldblum described the visibility of the proposed addition as “pretty darn minimal” and Commissioner Kim Vauss noted that the historic district is really experienced from street level. Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy, however, asked why it had to be visible at all, suggesting it be made “completely discreet.” LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the restoration will be “a very good thing” for the building.
Ever-thorough Commissioner Michael Devonshire noticed that one of the presentation slides shows fiberglass replacements for parts of the first floor of the Chambers Street side of the building. Developer Jason Friedman replied that was an error and cast iron is the plan.
Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City testified against the proposed addition, as did Kelly Carroll of the Historic Districts Council. “While a one-story rooftop addition might be appropriate here, the proposed two-story addition is not. The applicant’s work restoring the storefront is commendable and sufficient for a change of use, however it does not justify the change of bulk that would be increased with this addition,” HDC’s Carroll said. “This addition will be visible, and the segmental arched windows on the top story draw attention to themselves, which gives the effect of stretching the building’s original proportion and openings far beyond the historic building’s termination. This addition should be scaled down and re-designed.”
A couple of neighbors also testified against the proposal. A resident of 99 Reade Street called it “dangerous” while another person said it was “out of place” and accused the on-site mock-up of not accurately depicting the addition. The LPC staff member assigned to this application said he had verified its accuracy. Manhattan Community Board 1 recommended against approval, and the commission received five e-mails in opposition.
In the end, after some debate, the commissioners approved the proposal. The expansion will still have to make its way past the Board of Standards and Appeals.