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Carter's View

Community Board 5 voted 27 to 1 with 2 abstentions and 1 "present not entitled to vote' last night to recommend that the Landmarks Preservation Commission not give a certificate of appropriateness to the transfer of air rights from above St. Thomas Episcopal Church on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street and the University Club on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 54th Street to a proposed mixed-use tower designed by Jean Nouvel at 53 West 53rd Street adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art.

Hines Interests, one of the nation's foremost developers, which is erecting an undulating residential condominium building at 1 Jackson Square in Greenwich Village designed by Bill Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox and which built the "lipstick" office building at 885 Third Avenue designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, has signed a contract to acquire the vacant lot at 53 West 53rd Street from the Museum of Modern Art and provide the museum with about 50,000 square feet of exhibition space and about 10,000 square feet of basement storage space in the proposed tower.

As designed by Jean Nouvel, the architect of the new apartment building at 40 Mercer Street in SoHo and another one now under construction at 100 Eleventh Avenue with curved south and west facades with windows of many different shapes and sizes, the new tower would utilize the air rights to rise 1,155 feet high, more than a hundred feet taller than the Chrysler Building.

Under the proposal, the church would transfer about 275,000 square feet of air rights and the club would transfer about 136,000 square feet.

The site at 53 West 53rd Street, which extends through the block to 54th Street, can be developed with about 210,000 square feet without any air rights transfers. The plan also calls for about 7,000 square feet of air rights to be transferred from the museum for a grand total of 628,238 square feet if the transfers are allowed.

The proposed building, which is to be known as the Tower Verre, would be a dramatic addition to the skyline as it has tapered north and south facades and diagonal bracing. It would contain a 100-room, "seven-star" hotel, and 120 "highest-end residential condominiums."

In its resolution sent today to Robert Tierney, the chairman of the landmarks commission, the community board noted that the developer "has not provided a written preservation plan and independent Shadow Studies, as requested by the Committee, which are imperative in order to assess if there is an adequate preservation plan in place" and for the commission to report whether "the new tower will 'relate harmoniously to the subject landmark buildings" including the "stained glass windows of St. Thomas Church which face west to the Development site."

The resolution also said that the museum's famous sculpture garden is not a landmark, "but an eventual candidate for Scenic Landmarking, very likely the most adversely affected open space in the vicinity of the proposed tower."

The museum recently completed a major redevelopment that was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.

In addition to creating new spaces for the museum to use, the deal is expected to provide it with about $65 million for its endowment.

A on-line petition imploring that city officials approve the proposed tower was started today at and by 5:15PM already had 53 signers.

The petition noted that New York City "has not been at the forefront of skyscraper design for many years now," adding that Nouvel's design "is every bit as great as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, which is no small claim."

"Although it is designed in a modern vernacular, every inch of it strives to be tall, it has a Gotham feel and it has Art Deco flourishes, it is a modern landmark. This is what New York essentially is all about; big, bold, and proud," the petition continued.
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Additional Info About the Building

Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.
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