Preservation Issues

Conservancy Opposes Plan to Lift Deed Restrictions at 28 Liberty

-28 Liberty Street, Lower Manhattan

--Proposed plan to elevate corners of the plaza

September, 2016

The Conservancy opposed a plan to lift the deed restrictions at 28 Liberty (the former One Chase Manhattan Plaza) and allow tall glass boxes on the plaza to break a height limit set in 1956. The proposal came before Community Board 1, Manhattan this week. All three glass pavilions would rise well above a six-foot height limit for buildings on the plaza, which was established when the International Style complex was being planned.

The original owners, Chase Manhattan Bank, agreed to the deed restriction in exchange for a taller tower that would rise without setbacks. This led to a sweeping, flat plaza punctuated only by a garden, artwork, trees, and the tower itself, all arranged in a precise layout. Construction of the complex was one of Lower Manhattan’s first introductions to International Style design and planning concepts that would redefine the City’s skyline and neighborhoods. This intrepid construction project helped to revitalize the declining Financial District in the 1960s.

In May 2015, we testified at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on an earlier version of the proposal, where we opposed a plan to elevate corners of the plaza. The revised proposal from August 2015, replaced those elevations with glass boxes that are 16 feet -2 inches, 17 feet -2 inches, and 11 feet tall. The LPC held a meeting without the opportunity for public testimony and approved the glass pavilions, acknowledging that the deed restriction would need to be modified.

We are concerned that if this modification is approved, it could set a precedent to allow other covenants, voluntarily entered to achieve outsized floor area ratio, to be set aside at a later date. Preservation cannot be allowed to devolve into a temporary convenience.

The city is developing new policies for public review of deed modifications following the controversy at the Rivington House. (See this article in the New York Times) Until those policies are finalized, the Community Board’s review of the deed restriction modification is advisory only. The Community Board, which has been considering this issue since July, tabled the vote on a resolution until next month.