Should Hudson Square’s Rezoning Have to Wait for the Designation of a Historic District?

What will it mean for development in the South Village? (Trinity Real Estate)

What will it mean for development in the South Village? (Trinity Real Estate)

There is no doubt that the Hudson Square rezoning, if and when it is approved, will reshape what is arguably the last remaining swath of downtown Manhattan’s formerly industrial landscape. Preservationists, however, are not concerned with the fate of the neighborhood’s old printing plants, but rather, that of the quaint district that borders Hudson Square to the northeast.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation claims that development and demolition plans in the as-yet unlandmarked South Village—a chunk of Soho bounded by West 4th to the north, Sixth Avenue to the west, West Broadway to the east and Watts Street to the South—have been speeding up as the rezoning moves through the approval process.

Now they want the city council to withhold approval for the rezoning until the South Village is declared a historic district—a move that would effectively halt Trinity’s plans for Hudson Square as the application wends its way through the Landmarks Preservation Commission, where it has formally been under consideration since 2006. A public hearing and vote are still required for Landmarks approval.

“One of these things can be delayed without harm and the other cannot,” said GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman.

Mr. Berman cited the creation of the West Chelsea historic district during the West Chelsea rezoning as an example of the city council wielding similar power.

“Speaker [Christine] Quinn has considerable leverage. The question is, ‘does she want to use it?’ In the past, she’s demanded concessions that cost the city millions of dollars,” said Mr. Berman, pointing to public schools and funding for affordable housing. The implication being that a vote on a landmarks proposal shouldn’t be hard by comparison

But it’s unclear if Ms. Quinn, who has advocated for the South Village Historic District and others in the past would, or even could, mandate the creation of a historic district as a condition of the rezoning.

In response to a question of whether such a step was conceivable, city council spokesman Justin Goodman said that Ms. Quinn did not wish to comment on an under-review application, but that “as with all ULURP applications that come before the Council, Speaker Quinn looks forward to reviewing the proposal and to working to ensure that an open dialogue with all interested parties is maintained.”

We couldn’t help but wonder, even if Ms. Quinn could stop the rezoning, would a mayoral candidate eager to be seen favorably by the real estate community take steps to stall a popular, largely uncontroversial rezoning because of a landmarking delay in an adjacent neighborhood?

Regardless of the city council’s ability, or desire to, mandate landmarking, Hudson Square’s spillover development remains a presents a real problem for vulnerable South Village. If the Hudson Square rezoning hasn’t already spurred development in the adjoining neighborhoods, it no doubt will. Development in Manhattan is less a delicate dance than a domino effect, a question not of if, but when.

Moreover, the South Village is already wedged between two historic districts (the Soho Cast Iron and the Greenwich Village), which is making it an increasingly popular place for developers to plunk the residential high-rises and hotels that are forbidden on the low-rise streets nearby. While Hudson Square would’t have the same restrictions as the Cast Iron district or Greenwich Village, its redevelopment into a happening neighborhood will make South Village that much more attractive.

The GVSHP has amassed a list of non-contextual developments in the proposed historic district which have, like the Hudson Square rezoning, been in the works for some time. Among them is the Children’s Aid Society at 209 Sullivan Street—a three-story building that will be demolished and replaced with a 7-story building but could, GVSHP warns, be replaced with a 16-story building under current zoning regulations if the developer so desired (he doesn’t). The empty lot at 180 Sixth Avenue, where owners filed plans with the DOB to a build a 14-story residential high-rise this fall, is another area of concern.

Mr. Berman pointed out that he wasn’t the only one who believed Hudson Square would spur high-rise development in the South Village: the city’s own environmental impact study said that the proposed historic district would suffer a “significant adverse impact from the rezoning.”

Whether Hudson Square is already influencing South Village development, or if both the push to rezone Hudson Square and South Village projects are the result of larger economic trends is debatable. But the question of whether it will in the future is significantly less ambiguous.

kvelsey@observer.com