Greenpoint

That metal facade’s got to go, Greenpoint neighbors tell the Landmarks Preservation Commission

February 12, 2020 Lore Croghan
The Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected this design for 171 Calyer St. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

City Landmarks Preservation Commissioners rejected a design for the largest new-construction project ever proposed in the Greenpoint Historic District.

At a Tuesday hearing, they told architect Sherida Paulsen the proposed seven-story, 33-unit apartment building with ground floor shops at 171 Calyer St. was too tall and too massive for the landmarked neighborhood — and the metal facade on the building’s top two floors was all wrong.

They instructed her to devise a new design and come back to the commission with it.

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Paulsen, a principal at PKSB Architects, knows the drill at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. She was its chairperson from 2001 to 2003.

A one-story commercial building that housed a supermarket and later a gym currently stands on the development site. The property is on the opposite side of Calyer Street from the 1950s annex to the landmarked former Green Point Savings Bank, a domed granite building constructed in 1906 and designed by important architecture firm Helmle & Huberty.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission told architect Sherida Paulsen to come up with a new design for 171 Calyer St. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
The Landmarks Preservation Commission told architect Sherida Paulsen to come up with a new design for 171 Calyer St. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

PKSB Architects designed a residential conversion of the bank annex that involves enlarging it from a three-story to a five-story building.

‘Stark mismatch’

At Tuesday’s hearing, a dozen Greenpoint residents and elected officials’ reps voiced their opposition to 171 Calyer St.’s design in passionate testimony.

“The visual impact of this uninteresting building is exacerbated by the stark grayness of the metal facade at its sixth and seventh stories,” Greenpoint Historic District resident and community activist Sante Miceli said.


Ben Dietz called the proposed development “a stark mismatch for the historic profile of Greenpoint as a neighborhood of low-rising family homes.” His house is located across the street from 171 Calyer St.

The project as designed “would create a gateway for the erosion of a New York City Landmarks designation, undermining the fundamental purpose of the Landmarks agency,” said Maria Kura, who won the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award for the restoration of her Greenpoint Historic District home.

“If the proposal for the development of 171 Calyer St. is allowed to proceed, it will fundamentally change the character of our neighborhood and set a dangerous precedent for future developers seeking to maximize their financial gain at the expense of this area’s history and of their neighbors,” Noble-Lorimer Historic Block Association Vice Chairperson Lawrence Drucker said, speaking on behalf of several neighborhood block associations.

This is the ground floor of the rejected design for 171 Calyer St. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
This is the ground floor of the rejected design for 171 Calyer St. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Community Board 1 Chairperson Dealice Fuller said in a letter that was read into the public record that the organization voted unanimously to oppose the project’s design.

‘Slightly absurd’

A representative for State Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, whose district includes the area, read a letter from the politician that called the Greenpoint Historic District “a rare treasure in Brooklyn that should be preserved, not endangered.”

After a representative for City Councilmember Stephen Levin read a letter expressing his opposition to the project’s design, Levin arrived at the hearing. “The community takes their landmark district very seriously,” he testified.

A utilitarian brick building that served as a vaudeville house and then a movie theater stood at 171 Calyer St. from 1908 to 1965. Before the Greenpoint Theater was constructed, there were three-story wood-frame buildings on the property, which were similar in style and scale to the homes that populate the historic district.

In her presentation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Paulsen pointed to the existence of the Greenpoint Theater — which was demolished decades before the Greenpoint Historic District was designated — as a justification for the height and bulk of her apartment building design.

In her testimony, Brittney Thomas of the Historic Districts Council called the premise of Paulsen’s argument “slightly absurd.”

The rejected design for 171 Calyer St. consisted of 33 apartments plus storefronts. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
The rejected design for 171 Calyer St. consisted of 33 apartments plus storefronts. Rendering by PKSB Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Salomon Cojab bought 171 Calyer St. in 1978, city Finance Department records indicate. It currently belongs to an LLC with Cojab as a member, the records show.

To increase the size of the building that can be constructed at 171 Calyer St., last year the LLC bought air rights from the owner of the adjacent property for $2,266,550, Finance Department records indicate.

If you liked this story, read about the best spots for Polish food in Greenpoint.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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3 Comments

  1. It’s a given that buildings in the historical district should be preserved, and any new buildings need to fit in to what is already there.
    The proposed new building adheres to those requirements with a well-thought-out proposal.

    Replacing a one story former gym, the facade of the new building exactly matches the brickwork of many of the surrounding residential buildings
    (that upper metal clad portion, which is respectfully & tastefully setback, can easily be changed in terms of suitable materials).
    Furthermore the long portion of the new building on quiet residential Lorimer St not only exactly matches adjacent building brickwork but also exactly matches the three story height of the existing buildings there —while the five story height along more bustling Calyer St exactly matches the new construction/renovation across the street (which was formerly a modern-day IT center addition for the adjacent historic Greenpoint Savings Bank). The huge dome of the still existing historic Greenpoint Savings bank is far higher & bulkier than the slim seven story setback of the new building that will be about 500 feel away.
    All in all this is a fine residential addition to the neighborhood that, with some minor modifications, will fit into the historic district’s aesthetics without overpowering it.

    However , like most new construction it will likely be unaffordable to most residents of Greenpoint , and will serve to accelerate the rampant greed-fueled gentrification & rising rents (both business & residential) that are destroying the neighborhood’s viability for long time residents & businesses.
    It will serve the interestd of fly-by-night developers, not the fundamnetal interests of this neighborhood, its renter residents, and its businesses.
    The developers come in and say:”Hey, we like the place. It has potential. We can make money here. Now get out!”.
    Change is inevitable, but the gentrified destruction of stable & attractive neighborhoods like Greenpoint is not and cannot be acceptable in this city.
    Truly affordable housing needs to be our priority –and that should be an essential part of this building proposal.

  2. Anne Rotella

    Why was the new developer allowed to purchase air rights to alter the height of their new project building in a Historic District? The comment noting the 5 story height on “BUSTLING” Calyer St. highlights the awful traffic on Calyer St since the rezoning of Greenpoint. This street has become a traffic nightmare as it is now a major artery used by thousands of new residents in area. It’s filled with trucks, Ubers, visitors, contractors, new residents and has negatively affected the longtime remaining residents of this great neighborhood, bringing congestion and pollution.

    This new development needs to be scaled back & should include low income apartments, particularly for those residing in Community Board 1.

    And one final comment-when will the MTA add cars to the overpopulated G train?? It’s a long dash to the last car. There are still many seniors in Greenpoint & this community is overlooked in terms of transportation. We need comprehensive planning NOW.

    • Even though the G train has TWENTY-ONE stations, the last time I checked the MTA considered the G line as a mere “ shuttle” , ever since they cut it in half in the 90’s. The G used to run all the way to Forest Hills in Queens, all the time — including a very convenient stop at Queens Plaza.
      I suspect that this arbitrary shuttle designation (and the fact that it does not run directly into Manhattan) unfairly keeps the G train as a second-class, low-prioirity subway line, with shorter trains, even though the many neighborhoods that it serves are becoming ever more crowded and congested, with new developments sprouting up all along the route.
      State legislators (who run the MTA) — are you listening?
      And speaking of adding subway cars to the G (to match the length of other subway lines) , when are we getting replacement cars for the current G train cars that date from the 60’s?
      What are we – chopped liver? Enought already!