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St. Vincent’s Wins Fight to Build 19-Story Tower

St. Vincent’s Wins Fight to Build 19-Story Tower

New York Times 3/10/2009

By Glenn Collins

After a yearlong battle by preservationists, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted on Tuesday to approve a slightly smaller version of a planned $830 million medical tower for St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan, a key component of the hospital’s $1.63 billion, two-tower plan to modernize its facilities.

The commissioners voted 8 to 3 to issue a certificate of appropriateness that would permit the hospital to build a 19-story, 286-foot-tall medical building in the Greenwich Village Historic District.

St. Vincent’s had originally proposed a 329-foot tower and then put forth a 299-foot-tall redesign, but was forced to whittle it down yet again.

The vote reflected a significant shift in the positions of the commissioners, who had expressed sharp disagreement and were deadlocked on the issue in December, and it brought demolition of the hospital’s 44-year-old Edward and Theresa O’Toole Medical Services Building a step closer. The new hospital would be built on the site of that building, a sawtooth-sided neighborhood bastion on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets.

“We are very pleased at the commission’s vote, and this is obviously a major step forward in our mission to provide 21st-century health care,” said Henry J. Amoroso, president of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, the entity that includes the hospital.

Several commissioners said the hospital’s modifications to the plan persuaded them to change their minds. Because of the design changes, “I can accept the current height,” said Roberta Washington, a commissioner who had previously spoken against the tower.

But three commissioners were sharply critical in casting their nay votes. “I find this building very damaging to the Greenwich Village Historic District,” said one of them, Roberta Brandes Gratz, adding that “the loss of O’Toole is tragic.”

St. Vincent’s proposed the medical building as part of a plan that includes a 233-foot-tall luxury condominium to be built, in conjunction with the Rudin Management Company.

During the two-and-a-half-hour hearing before 90 people in a meeting room at New York University, Robert B. Tierney, the commission’s chairman, called the hospital’s proposed redesign “a superb effort.”

The O’Toole building would have to be razed to make way for the new hospital, and St. Vincent’s wants to demolish four of the other buildings it owns. The commission said in May that the hospital could not tear down O’Toole under the landmarks law. But the hospital reapplied under provisions that permit institutions to claim hardship as a justification to demolish old buildings if they can prove that their maintenance interferes with their ability to carry out their charitable purpose.

On Monday, a coalition of New York historic preservation and community groups sued the commission and the hospital, seeking to block the demolition of O’Toole on the grounds that the commission members failed in a decision last October to follow the hardship standard established by the United States Supreme Court.

The commissioners are to consider the appropriateness of the condominium plan at a future hearing. After final acceptance by the landmarks panel, the project would need approval from the city Planning Commission and the City Council.