Neighborhoods like Greenwich Village contain many houses built for merchant families in the 19th century, converted to multi-family housing (usually for immigrants) decades later, and then converted back to single-family housing in more recent decades.
However, a recent Department of Buildings filing may indicate what appears to be a first for the South Village, the historic center of the Village’s immigrant, working-class community — a purpose-built tenement being converted into a 5,000+ square foot single-family home.
According to GVSHP’s research, 9 Minetta Street was built in 1883 as an “old law” tenement which housed 20 families. Over the years its cornice has been removed and its ground floor altered, but otherwise the original facade and its brickwork remains largely the same. The interior was renovated and upgraded and a new ground floor entrance added in 1927, and fire escapes were added in 1941.
However, sometime in the last several years, some units in 9 Minetta Street began to be used as a hotel (at least according to several on-line advertisements and accounts). Given that the zoning for the site prohibits hotel uses and Department of Buildings records indicate the building is still registered as walk-up apartments, this hotel use is likely illegal. Hotels illegally operating out of apartment buildings have been a cause of increasing complaints in Manhattan, with many tenants claiming owners place illegal hotels in their buildings to make it difficult or impossible for tenants to continue to live there. It is unclear how many of the units at 9 Minetta Street are currently being rented out as hotel rooms; the building’s intercom seems to indicate there are still some units with residential tenants left.
Then this past week a building permit application was filed for “GUT RENOVATION AND CONVERSION OF EXISTING MULTIPLE DWELLING INTO ONE FAMILY TOWNHOUSE.”
While this may be the first tenement to mansion/single-family home conversion in the South Village, it is by no means the first in New York. There was a rather high-profile and bitter battle over the conversion of the tenement at 47 East 3rd Street to an 11,600 sq. ft. single-family home. Several tenants in that case resisted eviction under the “personal use” provision in the rent stabilization law which allows an owner to take possession of occupied, rent-stabilized units if they are doing so for themselves or their family to live in. As no one had ever actually converted an 11,600 sq. ft. tenement in New York to a single-family home before, the rent-stabilized tenants contended that the evictions were not actually for “personal use” and the owners were really just seeking to eliminate the rent-stabilization protections and evict the current tenants for profit.
The courts, however, appeared to side with the owners in this case, and the remaining tenants did accept buyouts rather than face eviction.
While we’ve not heard of any tenant opposition to 9 Minetta Street’s planned conversion to a single-family home (which doesn’t mean there is none), this application does raise some other concerns.
9 Minetta Street is located within the proposed South Village Historic District, which GVSHP and many others have been fighting to see landmarked. While not necessarily a pristinely preserved work of architecture, 9 Minetta Street does contribute and relate to the architecture of the neighborhood, and certainly connects to its history (trivia buffs will also recognize neighboring 11 Minetta Street as the former home of the Fat Black Pussycat Theater, where Bob Dylan wrote “Blowing’ in the Wind,” and 7 Minetta Street to the south as the home of Al Pacino’s whistle-blowing title-character cop in the movie ‘Serpico’). 9 Minetta is also located at the bend in Minetta Street, thus making it particularly visible and visually impactful upon this charming and iconic one-block thoroughfare.
The application does not make clear what changes may also be contemplated for the exterior of the building, although two items do immediately raise some red flags. First, the application calls for raising the height of the building by 12 feet from 60 feet to 72 feet. The Sliver Law, which may be applicable here, should limit the height of any construction on this street to 60 feet. Beyond this legal issue, while a discreet, set back rooftop addition might not be very visible, a wide, 12-foot tall addition rising straight up near the front of the building could have a profound visual impact upon this tiny street.
Also, the application includes the addition of one enclosed parking space, i.e. a parking garage, inserted into the base of this building. It’s a little harder to imagine how such an intrusion into the facade of this building, and into charming Minetta Street, could be done in a way which is appropriate for and sensitive to its context (there is no guarantee the new owner will receive permission for the curb cut necessary for a ground floor parking garage, and thus the ultimate fate of this particular aspect of the plan remains in doubt).
Of course all of these issues (the aesthetic ones, anyway) could be addressed if the City only moved ahead with considering the remainder of our proposed South Village Historic District as they promised to four years ago. The City Council will be voting soon on the proposed Hudson Square rezoning, which will increase the already considerable development pressure upon the South Village (as illustrated by this application for 9 Minetta Street).
If you want to help ensure the preservation of the South Village, write City Council Speaker Quinn and urge her NOT to approve the Hudson Square Rezoning UNLESS the city moves ahead with promised landmark protections for the South Village, or call her office at 212-564-7757.