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"These smart people in the real estate industry watch the [commission] closely and they'll say, 'You know, you've allowed this glass building here, so why not here?' " says Bankoff, of the Historic Districts Council. Just over 2 percent of all buildable lots in the city are in historic districts. The implications are real. He adds, "The commission starts setting a small precedent, and the water starts coming over the dam."
Project defenders like Bell, meanwhile, see the proposed glass tower as a positive example. "Its value in defining the missing edge of a significant and under-utilized public space, and its attention to scale and proportion, make it a good precedent," he writes.
That's little consolation to Village residents. Because Hines is seeking to build its glass tower 15 feet higher than zoning regulations allow, it must now seek an exception from the city's Board of Standards and Appeals. Few expect the agency to stand in the way of progress. So while the big, wavy glass building has yet to materialize, residents can do nothing but contemplate its existence.
It's not a pleasant thought. "Personally, I feel cheated," says Carol Kino, of the Horatio Street co-op near the Greenwich Avenue site. When she bought her home in the district, she figured the landmarking would preserve her streetscape. She figured she could count on security from the all-glass facades rising just outside the Village's landmarked boundaries these days, on Astor Place, on Perry Street, and along the Hudson River.
"It's like, 'If there isn't security here, where is there?' " she says. "What does the historic designation mean if this type of development can happen?"