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.”
And then there were condos
For a brief moment in the late summer, it seemed possible, if not probable, that the red brick row house at 186 Spring Street might become the first gay rights landmark in the city to be officially recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soho rowhouse sheltered a number of prominent gay rights activists, among them Bruce Voeller (who was a leader in the fight against AIDS), Arnie Kantrowitz and Jim Owles, who was the president of the Gay Activists Alliance at the time he lived there, an influential organization that emerged in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots. Until the spring, it belonged to another notable New Yorker, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz.
But on a rainy morning last week, the building was surrounded by neither city officials nor map-clutching tourists, but by a demolition crew tasked with tearing it down to make way for a seven-story luxury condo.
Much of the debate around the expansion of the Chelsea Market has centered around not the former Nasbisco factory turned popular shopping center (and subsequent tourist attraction), but the old railroad trestle next to it.
Part of the justification for expanding the market by 25 percent was that, in addition to providing construction jobs and new office space for the city’s booming tech sector, the developer of the project, Jamestown Properties, would pay about $19 million to the High Line, to help fund ongoing maintenance. But there was also great community outcry over the fact that much of the new addition would be built on the 10th Avenue side of Chelsea Market, directly overhanging the High Line.
Earlier today, the City Planning Commission unanimously approved the project’s expansion, and addressed a few of these concerns.
It Takes a Village
Now the NYU plan is perfect, at least in the eyes of planning potentate Amanda Burden and the rest of the rest of the City Planning Commission. About an hour ago, the commission conditionally and near unanimously approved NYU’s contentious expansion plans for its two superblocks just south of Washington Square Park.
The commission is requiring the university to modify its 2 million square foot expansion in a number of meaningful ways, though the outlines of the new mini campus remain largely intact. There was one dissenting vote for the modified plan, from Commissioner Michelle de La Uz, who is the appointee of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
The City Planning Commission is set to vote on the Rudin’s plan for condos on the St. Vincent’s site on Monday, and even though a single vote has not been cast, Greenwich Village superman Andrew Berman has already divined a favorable outcome for the developer. His response, as always, is damning.