Effort to Protect Merchant’s House Museum Gets Ratched Up

Proposed hotel and existing lotLandmarks Preservation Commission The garage at 27 East Fourth Street, and the proposed building.

Community Board 2 beefed up its efforts to protect the historic Merchant’s House Museum last night, resolving to disapprove of a plan to build a hotel next to the historic building unless the proposed structure is scaled back.

Earlier this week, the board’s Landmarks and Public Aesthetics Committee issued a recommendation that the nine-story hotel be “in scale with the adjacent Merchant’s House, not industrial buildings on Lafayette,” meaning the new hotel should only be four stories tall. But last night, members of the full board objected that the recommendation failed to explicitly demand that the hotel’s construction permit be denied unless its developers agreed to downsize.

Nick Nicholson, the chair of the board of directors of the Merchant’s House Museum, felt that, without such a rejection clause, the recommendation wasn’t forceful enough in voicing concern that the demolition of a one-story garage next to the Merchant’s House and the construction of the hotel might jeopardize the structural integrity and delicate plasterwork of the 19th century landmark. And members of the board agreed.

Board member Jo Hamilton initially called for a stronger resolution that would outright recommend denial of the hotel’s construction sans stipulations. But others felt such a hard-line stance wouldn’t be taken seriously by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. After some discussion, the board passed a resolution stating that the hotel should not go up “until it can be assured to the satisfaction of the Merchants House Museum that all potential for structural damage or damage to the integrity of the historic fabric of the museum has been addressed.”

The resolution added some bite to the committee’s earlier demand that the hotel be scaled back to four stories and that its owner be held responsible for any damage caused by construction.

Mr. Nicholson said he was happy with the outcome. “We are as always very appreciative of the support of Community Board 2,” he told The Local. He said the Merchant’s House, though it didn’t approve of current plans for the hotel, was not opposed to allowing someone to eventually develop the space.

Brad Hoylman, the chair of C.B. 2, was also pleased that the committee’s earlier recommendation was given teeth. “I don’t think it was a very forceful statement of our desire to reject the application if the Merchant’s House can’t be safeguarded in a manner we think is feasible,” he said. “I’m comfortable that our resolution is constructive. And that’s the point. It has to be constructive because it looks like they’re proceeding with this applicant in one way or another.”

Doris Diether, the co-chair of the board’s Landmarks committee, said the hotel’s owner was working closely with the Landmarks Preservation Committee, meaning the project was likely to be approved. “They would definitely approve something and I wanted to make sure that we had in all the conditions that we had [originally] put in,” said Ms. Diether. “If we just say deny the whole thing, then they’re going to pass something and it may be the high rise we don’t want.”

The Landmarks Preservation Committee is under no obligation to accept the recommendations of the community board, but Mr. Hoylman is optimistic. “Hopefully they will take our concerns into consideration when they determine whether to allow the applicant to move forward or not,” he said.

Update | 11:25 a.m. The Merchant’s House Museum just sent out a message thanking supporters and asking them to sign a petition and contribute money toward “fighting developers.”