Circling Hudson Square: Everybody Wants a Piece of the Last Untouched Neighborhood—Except for Those Who Just Want To Be Left Alone

If it's good enough for Jennifer Connolly, it's good enough for you.

136041977 Circling Hudson Square: Everybody Wants a Piece of the Last Untouched Neighborhood—Except for Those Who Just Want To Be Left Alone

Occupy Hudson Square. (Getty)

Hudson Square has been through a lot in the past few years.

Before the rezoning, there was the hullaboo about the outsized Trump Soho, where 391 “condos” were for sale in the 46-story “hotel.” Residences are illegal in construction zones, so an eventual compromise was reached to restrict owners to 120 days a year at a stretch of no more than 30 days. It was this sort of out-of-context, out-of-bounds development that helped spur on the rezoning.

Then came Mayor Bloomberg with plans for a sanitation garage. The garbage trucks have to park somewhere after all, and the mayor had rightly vowed to stop dumping them all in the outer boroughs, especially the South Bronx. Each borough would have to take its fair share. Messrs. Gandolfini, Slattery and Reed were far from O.K. with this—think of the property values!—and they hosted rallies and benefits, replete with red carpet, even commissioned a local architect to offer an alternative. Mr. Gandolfini was among the plaintiffs of a lawsuit attacking the city for the plan. It passed anyway, and steel currently rises to five stories at the corner of Spring Street and the West Side Highway. Trinity seems to have embraced the building as a mark of the neighborhood’s mixed character.

Then there was the Occupation. One of Trinity’s main reasons for developing all this real estate is to fund the church’s charitable work. In addition to fighting to end apartheid by funding Reverend Desmond Tutu and providing brown bag lunches every Wednesday on the steps of the old church, Trinity gave greatly of money and resources to Occupy Wall Street, including office space in Hudson Square. When the eviction finally came from Zuccotti Park last December, the Occupiers briefly moved into Duarte Park, the future site of that marquee tower. After vandalism and other strains of lawlessness ensued, they were evicted from the space.

Now it is Trinity’s turn to stir things up a little.

At Monday’s planning meeting, some commissioners questioned why it was a private developer, and not the city itself, that was undertaking such a monumental planning effort. “This is a private application that very much looks and smells and feels like a neighborhood rezoning,” Commissioner Anna Levin said. “I’m curious about the degree of interchange between staff and the applicant in taking this up and shaping it. Also, the extent to which other stakeholders and other property owners have been consulted.”

Edith Hsu-Chen, director of the department’s Manhattan office, responded, “Certainly this is a neighborhood rezoning, one put forward by a private applicant. As we have many applications, certainly, with this amount of coverage, there have been discussions with the department. But again, this is a private application, as we want to make clear.”

There are the usual complaints from the neighbors, of course, about schools and affordable housing. The preservationists are worried not only about the integrity of the old loft buildings but also some Federalist-style townhouses sprinkled throughout the district. But the biggest bellows actually come from a number of prominent developers who own land in the area but do not bear the cross.

“The urban design regulations are too generic, they don’t apply well to Hudson Square’s unique grid, and they don’t accommodate the type of development the plan aims to produce.” Anthony Borelli, vice president of planning and development at Edison Properties, told The Observer. His firm owns a parking lot just above the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, a fact that makes its redevelopment difficult, as half the site is unbuildable—dig down for a foundation and you hit the dead space below. But the historical covenants in place make a setback tower impossible.

“On one hand, Trinity’s plan sets a goal for creating approximately 6,000 residential units, including affordable housing, to make the area a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood,” Mr. Borelli said. “But then on the other hand, its urban design regulations make it virtually impossible to achieve that many units or to fully use the city’s inclusionary housing program.”

Gary Barnett, head of Extell Development, placed much of the blame on City Planning. “I’m not sure Trinity really cares,” he said.