When Romanoff Equities proposed a new 250-foot commercial tower on a corner lot in the Meatpacking District earlier this year designed by James Carpenter, the developers were ridiculed by some in the community for arguing that they deserved zoning compensation because the High Line created a hardship on their property at the corner of West 13th and Washington streets. Though the elevated park had not yet opened, the High Line had already burnished property values its entire length, with luxury projects sprouting up beside—and even over—its railings.
Still, the Romanoffs took their case before the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, arguing for the right to build a bigger project than zoning currently allows because 23 percent of their property is covered by the High Line. Last Tuesday, the board ruled in the developers’ favor, though the size of the project has been reduced, as has its retail footprint. Carpenter’s signature design remains largely intact. The decision has left the developers and the preservationists who oppose the project both claiming victory.
“It’s not a disappointment at all,” Darryl Romanoff, principal of Romanoff Equities, said in an interview. “I think overall the envelope and the entire building—the way it looks—we’re very happy with the results. That’s working with the community and working with the BSA, and I think everything came out great.”
“We were happy we were able to impact the process to make it smaller,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
The board granted Romanoff a 25-percent density increase on the site, allowing for a 175-foot building. When the project first leaked out in February, it was proposed at 250 feet, though the developer reduced that to 205 feet in August when it made its first presentations to the board. The board also limited the retail space to the first two floors, as opposed to the first three. The building will only have a slight two-foot cantilever on its western edge starting at the fifth floor, whereas a 10-foot overhang was first proposed.
The board left intact other zoning variances that Carpenter sees as more essential to the building’s success. These include eliminating a required setback at 13th Street, which creates a sheer southern façade, and a modified setback on Washington Street that produces the building’s unique High Line-paralleling profile while also maintaining a continuous street wall from the third floor down, allowing for continuity with neighbors. “I think those variances greatly improve the way the building relates to the neighborhood,” Carpenter said. It is Carpenter’s first groun-up building, designed in partnership with Gerner, Kronixk + Valcarecel, and argued that were it not for the project’s prominent location, it would not have drawn so much attention.
But it is not only proximity to the High Line that earned the building notice. Berman’s concern was the nearby Gansevoort Market Historic District, within which the Romanoff’s building was initially located before it was carved out at the last minute at the request of the owners. While Berman remains happy at shrinking the building, he does believe it remains too large. “I find it highly unlikely they could not have made a reasonable return on their property by playing by the same rules as everybody else,” Berman said.
Darryl Romanoff counters that concerns about so-called big box retailers and overdevelopment are unfounded. “We’re not that type of landlord and the building does not cater to that type of use,” he said. The Romanoff family has owned property in the area for over six decades, now much of which is occupied by fashion, design, and media companies. More of the same can be expected in the Carpenter project. “We’re not going to take just anybody,” he said.
Finding a tenant will be the next step for the project, Romanoff said, ideally one that would occupy both the retail and a portion of the office space. Once a tenant is secured, then the developer will begin seeking construction financing. Romanoff said there had been some discussions about the space, though none recently, and he did not give a timeline for the project.
Despite his initial contention that the High Line created a hardship on his property, Romanoff now points out that it would be an ideal location, as he hopes to have access to the park on the building’s second floor, pending approvals. The first floor retail store would also be built roughly 15 percent underneath, including the distinctive structure’s massive steel columns exposed within the space. “It creates a very dynamic opportunity,” Romanoff said.
Annie Washburn, executive director of the Meatpacking District Initiative, welcomes the building, saying it fits in well with its notable neighbors, the Standard Hotel, High Line Building, and the Diane Von Furstenberg Studio. “I think it’s a great fit,” Washburn said. “It’s going to be a very strong building, even at this height.”