The Fallout from 135 Bowery: Skepticism About Community Agreement, Preservation Architect Resigns

135 Bowery.

Here’s a followup on the battle for 135 Bowery, the 194 year old federal house that was stripped of its landmark status by the City Council last week.

First American International Bank plans to demolish the 3-story structure, which won protection from the Landmarks Preservation Commission this past summer.  District 1 City Councilmember Margaret Chin supported landmarking last year but changed her mind after the bank explained its plan to create affordable office space in a new building on the site.

In a hearing earlier this month, two Councilmembers (including landmarks subcommittee chair Brad Lander) asked a bank executive, Patrick Yau, if he would be willing to sign a Community Benefits Agreement, detailing the bank’s specific commitment to create affordable office space. Yau said he would be open to discussing a binding agreement.

Late last week, we checked in with Chin’s office to find out whether there had been any further discussion about a community agreement. Kelly Magee, Chin’s communication director, told us:

Councilmember Chin put a lot of time and thought into this decision. We wouldn’t go out of a limb for someone that did not have a plan in place, or who we weren’t confident would  follow through. The property owner, First International, has said they would be willing to consider a community benefits agreement, but obviously that depends on both sides being willing to work together and negotiate and be reasonable. Councilmember Chin, for her part, is more interested in looking at zoning protections, such as height caps, or a historic district in the area — but this is going to take time for us to assess and research.

Magee also noted that the bank has applied for federal tax credits, which if granted, would set up commercial rents at 20% below market rate.

Preservation advocates remain dismayed about Chin’s reversal on 135 Bowery.  But they are encouraged by her promise to continue pursuing height caps. In the past, Chin has urged the City Planning Commission to protect the east side of the Bowery. It’s a proposal the City Planning Commission has adamantly opposed. Simeon Bankoff, head of the Historic Districts Council, questioned what the bank means when it expresses a “willingness to work with the community.” He seemed pleased, however, that Chin’s office is talking about zoning protections on the Lower East Side’s most endangered street.

In an email message to supporters, David Mulkins of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, said:

Our next step is to encourage Council Member Chin to work for a larger vision that would better serve the entire community. We ask her to work with the building owner (First American International Bank) and the preservationists to find another way to preserve 135 Bowery. We expect as much from our Council Member given the clear and overwhelming outpouring of support to save the building by her local constituents!  Because Margaret has heretofore been a strong, helpful ally in the Bowery preservation efforts, we trust that she will help find some solution that achieves the goals of all concerned.

Mulkins said he planned to meet with members of Chin’s staff next week about several issues.

Victor Papa of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council told us today he’s deeply disappointed in Chin’s handling of the 135 Bowery situation. “At the very least she should support a Community Benefits Agreement,” he said. But Papa was very skeptical about the bank’s promise of building affordable office space in Chinatown. “It will be affordable for 10 minutes, until everyone forgets (about the ordeal),” he asserted.

Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors are co-sponsoring an application to have the Bowery added to the National Register of Historic Places. They expect the state to recommend approval of that application within a couple of weeks. Activists hope the designation will help persuade the city that both sides of the Bowery should be protected from over-development.

On a related note, Bankoff confirmed last week that Page Cowley, an architect specializing in preservation, resigned from the Historic Districts Council’s board of directors. In the City Council hearing, Cowley testified on behalf of the bank, saying 135 Bowery was not worth saving.  Bankoff declined to discuss the matter, indicating it was an internal issue.  Cowley did not respond to our request for comment.

 

  • Anon

    I don’t see the point in the time spent preserving old buildings.

    To me, it’s like saying we should preserve, in multiple cities, a working cave in which a group of Cro-Magnons reside because it’s our history.

    I just hope no one shows up trying to lecture me on this supposed shared history.

    On the other hand, if someone wants to create a working Republican Party Compound reality TV show which debuts with Ronald Reagan and Dick Cheney revealed as a deeply closeted gay couple, I’m all for preserving accurate historical records. Especially if Guiliana dances in drag at their wedding.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, homophobic and history challenged. 
    So we should scrap such nuisances as City Hall, Clinton Castle, Washington Square Arch, Fraunces Tavern etc. and build parking lots and office towers instead? What vision.
    And sorry, no, Dick and Ron are quite clearly both very very mainstream het.

  • Osito

    Thank God this dump will be demolished.

    The Bowery has gone from a slum to one of the most vibrant streets anywhere, which, of course, enrages the NIMBY rent-control Granny crowd, but pretty much everyone else is happy the Bowery has gone from derelicts to productive uses.

  • Inarmsway

    you don’t understand the issue here. no one wants to preserve the derelict wino bowery of the 70’s. this building was built in the 1810’s when the bowery was a respectable and important new york city village. clearly you are a poorly educated individual and have no clue about whats going on here. do you have any affinity for the brownstone lined streets of the west village where town houses sell for $18 million? many of those houses were built before 1840 and a small few were built around the same time as this house. if this house were a mile west it would be considered one of the finest townhouses in the city and some douchebag like you would gladly pay that $18M and their hedge fund friends would be impressed and awed by their fine home and what it says about their fine and cultured taste.
    most people in this city need a price tag attached to something to know whats it worth. i only use the terms above because you wont understand anything else. 
    id love to know what your idea of vibrant is BTW.. please do tell and ill explain to you in terms you will understand why this building is important.

  • Inarmsway

    one more thing.. the bowery hotel, freeman’s alley & social club, RRL, john varvatos, billy reid, the smile and an endless list of other “vibrant” places that are heading the charge of the bowery renewal are ALL paying homage to the historical bowery. these places (and i like and frequent many of them) all had to fake what 135 bowery authentically is. even fashion/ media/ entertainment are mining the bowery’s history for inspiration. because it was the coolest f’ing road in the world for 200 years. if all you know is the 40 year bum period then you need an education son and shut the f’up until you know what you’re talking about.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm..Interesting attitude regarding the poor of the Bowery.
    Ever talk to any of the men who’ve lived on this street for decades? Some have
    led some wild and interesting lives. Some are veterans, some extraordinarily
    intelligent and original thinkers, some couldn’t hack how shitty the world can
    be, some chose to live on the edge quite purposefully, some pretty banged up
    and lost. The people dismissed as “bums” are probably worthy of deeper thought
    and a bit more generosity than the writers here seem to be able to muster.

     

    Quite a bit of the Bowery’s “derelict” history was/is pretty
    f’ing amazing (before the latest “fashion/media/entertainment” crowd found
    her). Yes, the “old” crowd is different from much of the newer moneyed-class
    one. The new crowd seems to enjoy walking-on-the-wild side (as long as it’s not
    too wild) while homogenizing everything in their path.

     

    Some of us may have a different definition of “productive”.
    The unique artistic outpouring that has occurred on this street has been fairly
    astonishing while what has replaced it has leaned towards a superficial though
    spiffy corporate expression (tinged with “realism” of course) where interiors
    have to be faked.

     

    I prefer my buildings authentic, as well as the people in
    them.

     

    Just different taste I guess…

  • Guest

    What’s a 20% discount in this economy? ha, in this town that’s what you get for just filling out the form correctly.

    And isn’t the owner of the building also the co-chair of Chin’s chinatownBID task force? Funny how this building got revoked on the same day as the BID was passed. Talk about instant pay back. yuck!

    Also, didn’t the owner’s architect repeat at the hearing that the building is barely standing, but yet the DOB approval is to build 4 stories on top of the current structure? Either that’s not possible or someone lied at the hearing.

    Is this really how things work in the City Council?