The Real Estate Board of New York is not known for its support of the underclass. In years past, the vastly powerful industry group has wielded its influence to try to weaken and eliminate rent regulation. However, the group is now doing its darnedest to appeal to the masses, attempting to harness the widespread concern about the city’s growing income gap in its ongoing fight against landmarking.
Bring up the Bodies
East Village preservation groups made little headway in their battle to save a local church after the Landmarks Preservation Commission said it could not order an archeological survey to determine if a graveyard exists on the site.
Developer Doug Steiner bought the property at 181 Avenue A last year for $41 million and has plans for a 140-unit rental apartment building on the grounds of Mary Help of Christians. Preservationists hoping to spare the former church, which opened in 1917, thought the revelation that a cemetery was once located at the site could stop the wrecking ball.
This afternoon, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold its first and only hearing on the second phase of the proposed South Village Historic District—the formerly working-class section of Greenwich Village that local activists and preservationists say is now under intense development pressure in the aftermath of the Hudson Square rezoning.
While many in the local community have long agitated for landmarking, and the first phase of the process was approved in 2010, the hearing for the second phase hearing remained unscheduled until the Landmarks Commission agreed to hold a vote before the end of this year as a condition of the Hudson Square rezoning, though only on the section north of Houston Street.
The dead may not literally walk among us, but they can certainly cause headaches for developers. In 2006, work on Trump Soho was temporarily halted when human remains were discovered at the construction site, where a Baptist Church once stood. Last year, plans for a development in Queens were nixed after the property—home to a colonial-era cemetery—was landmarked. And back in 1991, the federal government was forced to significantly alter plans for its $276 million federal office tower in Lower Manhattan after uncovering the 17th and 18th-century remains of hundreds of African Americans.
Now, several preservation and community groups are pleading with developer Douglast Steiner to his abandon plans to demolish the Mary Help of Christians Church complex at 181 Avenue A (between East 11th and East 12th streets), because the buildings were built over a former Catholic Cemetery.
the planning game
With the New York City mayor’s race not even past the Democratic primary, it’s a bit early to be handicapping the city’s next chief city planner, but where’s the fun in being coy?
Crain’s has taken a look at who might fill the post, which it calls “perhaps more important than any deputy mayor position at City Hall,” arriving at a short list that includes names ranging from Vishaan Chakrabarti, a consummate real estate industry insider and former director of the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning, to the more community-minded Anna Levin, a member of the City Planning Commission and the chair of Manhattan Community Board 4′s Land Use Commission during most of the 2000s.
Purple People Eaters
If you thought that the war over New York University’s expansion in and around the Greenwich Village was over, think again: the university’s banner “NYU 2031″ plan to add infill buildings to its superblock may be over (okay, well, almost over), but skirmishes continue on the periphery, and two battles that broke out over the past week showing no sign of abating.
The first battle involved the new South Village historic district, which preservationists wanted to go hand-in-hand with the Hudson Square rezoning. Preservationists claimed that the rezoning, in addition to endowing property owners with millions of square feet of residential development rights in exchange for ensuring that nothing like the Trump SoHo would ever happen again, would imperil the unprotected historic neighborhood next door.
What's Old Is New Again
The Trump SoHo, the lone protrusion in an otherwise mid-rise Hudson Square, is one of the most controversial buildings in lower Manhattan—so controversial, in fact, that it helped inspire the neighborhood’s recently-passed rezoning. Built in an industrial and commercial zone, the tower styles itself as a “condo hotel” under a loophole worked out by the Bloomberg administration. While marketed as a condo building, buyers are technically not allowed to stay in their rooms for more than 120 days out of the year, or for more than 29 days out of any 36-day period.
But, as Andrew Berman at the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation pointed out to The Observer, these restrictions are basically unenforceable (the Department of Buildings’s press office didn’t know offhand if anyone’s ever gotten in trouble for violating these provisions, or if they’re even responsible for enforcement), and now Mr. Berman has noticed something strange: the city’s own tax lot data codes the property as ”mixed residential and commercial buildings”—apparently a contravention of the zoning code.
In the Rezone
This afternoon, the City Council voted to approve the Hudson Square rezoning. The rezoning—a plan five years in the making that allows for the creation of a denser, mixed-use district with significantly more residential and retail development—is now in effect. Bordered by Tribeca and Soho, there’s little doubt what the rezoning will mean for Hudson Square’s future. Behold New York’s next hot neighborhood.
Full Council approval was largely a formality after the Council’s land use and zoning and franchise committees voted to approve the plan last week, but it was significant: the last step in a lengthy approval process that will transform a neighborhood currently characterized by old printing plants and quiet sidewalks.
In the Rezone
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.
Their floors may creak, their plaster may crumble and their halls may be filled with daunting drafts, but New York’s old houses have proved their mettle through many a storm. Hurricane Sandy was no exception. The city’s historic mansions appear to have come through the hurricane basically unscathed, preservationists told The Observer, although at least one Lower Manhattan Landmark remains unaccounted for.
“We’ve been very lucky, none of our 23 houses sustained damage,” said Frank Vagnone, the executive director of the Historic House Trust. “And many of them were right in the path of the storm. The Alice Austen House, in particular. It’s right on the Verrazano Narrows.”