NIMBY Battle Heats Up on the LES, but Whose Backyard Is It?

 NIMBY Battle Heats Up on the LES, but Whose Backyard Is It?

The Sperone Westwater Gallery is not a fan of the proposed development.

The Bowery now has a Freitag boutique and a Whole Foods. Galleries and trendy restaurants rub shoulders with wholesale kitchen equipment suppliers (at least it’s convenient for the restaurants). The question of gentrification is not if or when but how fast. This should not be news to anyone who lives or works below 14th Street, particularly not an art gallery that opened on the Bowery last year.

And yet, one of the more bitter battles currently being fought over neighborhood change and development has pitted the year-old Sperone Westwater gallery against a proposed 25-story hotel and tower next door, according to The Wall Street Journal. The twist is that although the art gallery has won some local residents to its cause, the tower has garnered the support (via rent guarantees) of an affordable housing development that borders the planned project.

The project is to be built on a site of a garden that was once part of the privately owned housing development at 10 Stanton Street. The Journal reports that the property was transferred for $9.2 million in 2005, but would be worth five or six times that today, provided that city approves building rights for the plot.

The residents of 10 Stanton Street support the developers of the 289-foot-tall tower, with whom they reached an agreement that provides them with rent guarantees for the next 23 years.

“It is not that we oppose the community, but we had to take care of ourselves,” Deborah Gonzalez, the leader of the tenant organization told the Journal. “They have to fight their battles like we have to fight ours.”

The gallery claims that the development would be out of context with the neighborhood and would blanket the area in shadow. At least, it will certainly blanket the gallery in shadow, as the gallery’s dramatic glass rear wall stands some 30 feet from the proposed development.

Now, the gallery is trying to stop the city’s fast-tracking of the project with the help of an environmental lawyer, and recruiting groups like the Bowery Alliance to help call for more review. Thorough review and consideration is never a bad thing, of course, but the tenants of the affordable housing project seem to understand something about life on the Bowery that Sperone Gallery has yet to fully absorb: change will come. Sometimes the most you can hope for is a say in what that change looks like or whether your apartment will remain rent-controlled.
kvelsey@observer.com