February 10, 1987
Design Change of Skyscraper Provokes Debate on Hearing
David W. Dunlap

Is the skyscraper planned today over the former Rizzoli and Coty buildings on Fifth Avenue essentially the same structure that won approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1985?

Yes. That is the answer from the chairman, the staff and most members of the landmarks panel. Therefore, they said, there is no need for a hearing on changes that the developer is now proposing.

No. That is the answer from the mid-Manhattan community board, the Municipal Art Society and two landmarks commissioners. They said that the changes ought to be subject to public review before the landmarks panel votes on them.

The debate is not so much over the result—almost everyone applauds at least some of the design revisions—but over the process. The plans are to be reviewed by the landmarks panel today, but the session will not include public testimony.

650-Foot Tower Approved

The skyscraper, a project of Solomon Equities, would rise between 55th and 56th Streets and incorporate the landmark former homes of the Rizzoli International Bookstore at No. 712 and the Coty perfumery at No. 714. The lower floors are to be occupied by the Henri Bendel store, now at 10 West 57th Street.

In May 1985, after the original public hearing, the landmarks commission approved a 650-foot tower set back 50 feet from the facades of the Fifth Avenue landmarks and 27 feet from 56th Street.

This proposal, by the architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, showed a tower sloping gently backward from Fifth Avenue, faced primarily with limestone and distinguished by green granite pilasters, some of them 30 stories in height.

The new proposal, by the same architects, shows a straight tower, faced primarily with cast aggregate stone and distinguished by a kind of checkerboard window pattern where the pilasters had been.

A majority of commissioners did not believe that there were enough changes to merit public discussion,'' said Gene A. Norman, chairman of the landmarks panel. Elliot Willensky and Anthony M. Tung were the two who favored further public review.

Mr. Norman pointed out that the revised tower would still be 650 feet tall, still preserve the first 50 feet of the landmark structures and still occupy the same space.

Given the commission's consensus and a staff recommendation, Mr. Norman said he decided not to schedule a public hearing.

But the decision in this case has come under fire. Last Thursday, by a vote of 31 to 0, the local community board urged that a public hearing be convened.