Landmark, then Rezone
The City Planning Commission’s recent approval of a major rezoning of Hudson Square means the clock is now ticking until the City Council takes up the application for a vote — in about a month and a half from now.
An extremely serious concern is the impact that approval of a residential rezoning for the currently manufacturing-zoned enclave would have on the adjacent and vulnerable proposed South Village Historic District.
In short, the approval of the Hudson Square rezoning must be linked to the city’s designation of the full, proposed South Village Historic District. As we’ve stated before, for the most part, we support the Hudson Square residential rezoning and its various components.
But there’s no crisis facing Hudson Square if the rezoning isn’t passed in a few months. On the other hand, as of now, the unlandmarked sections of the South Village are already facing development pressure. Should a residential boom start in Hudson Square it would surely spill over into and impact the South Village, jeopardizing the historic fabric of this world-famous area.
In 2009, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated one-third of the historic district that was proposed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and there were indications that the rest would soon follow. But more than three years later, unfortunately, that pledge still hasn’t been fulfilled. So, while about 250 buildings in the South Village have been protected, 500 more remain vulnerable to outright demolition and gross and inappropriate modifications.
Simply put, there should be a hold put on approval of the Hudson Square rezoning until Landmarks commits unequivocally to calendaring the remainder of the full, proposed South Village Historic District.
More to the point, Speaker Christine Quinn should use her power to make sure that this critical landmarking goes first, and the rezoning second.
This is the neighborhood where bohemians of yore and Beatniks famously made their scene, their art and their music, wrote their poetry and their novels. Some of the famed MacDougal Street coffee houses and clubs where Bob Dylan and his contemporaries performed, like Cafe Wha?, are still here. The Coen brothers’ highly anticipated new movie, “Inside Llewyn Davies,” about the Village’s ’60s folk music scene, will revisit, literally, this fertile ground.
Caffe Reggio on MacDougal Street, also still here, was where cappuccino was first introduced to America. Over all, though, beyond the cultural history, the critical goal is to preserve the South Village’s historic, low-scale architecture. After all, that’s really what makes the South Village what it is. The debate can go on about how tall new buildings should be allowed to be in Hudson Square, but what makes the South Village special is its low-rise nature.
If the whole of the proposed South Village Historic District is not fully designated, but Hudson Square is residentially rezoned, there will surely be a rush to raze and redevelop in the former.
There’s no urgent need for this plan to be passed immediately — though, yes, we’d be happy if the prohibitions in Trinity’s rezoning that would require special permits for large hotels were O.K.’d tomorrow.
Meanwhile, people don’t come here from around the globe to visit MacDougal Street and Bleecker Street because of new glitzy architecture. It’s the history-soaked, low-scale architecture and historic cafes and venues that draw them.
It’s time for the city to follow through on its commitment to landmark the rest of the South Village, and not squander one of New York City’s greatest architectural and cultural treasures. Let’s get our priorities straight, and not ruin what’s so special in a relentless drive for new development.