Volume 79, Number 03 | June 24 - 30, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

At left, the new Cooper Square Hotel rises high above the Bowery. At right, a map showing how the Bowery’s east side has been excluded from protective zoning districts.

BAN plans to keep the building boom on Bowery at bay

By Albert Amateau

The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN) last week presented a plan to limit the size of new buildings and preserve traditional commercial uses on the east side of the Bowery between Canal and E. Ninth Sts.

The alliance, which includes artists, loft dwellers and local merchants, has been calling for preservation of the east side of the thoroughfare for the past three years as new high-rise residential and hotel towers have been threatening to overwhelm the low-rise character of Bowery.

“This is the first step in gathering support for the plan,” said Anna Sawaryn, president of BAN, who led the group’s June 16 forum. “We intend to present it eventually to Community Board 3 and ultimately to City Planning.”

The preservation plan developed for BAN by Doris Diether, a neighborhood zoning consultant and Community Board 2 member, calls for an 85-foot height limit on new buildings in a 100-foot-wide corridor on the east side of Bowery. The plan includes lot-coverage rules for residential and commercial development and a ban on demolition of specific buildings of special significance. To protect commercial uses, there would be restrictions on residential conversion of commercial space.

The city has previously recognized the historic significance of the Bowery by protecting the west side of the boulevard in the Special Little Italy District and the Noho Historic District.

“The east side of Bowery should be rezoned or it will become a wall of out-of-scale luxury development that would undermine the protective zoning in the surrounding communities,” Sawaryn said.

Last year’s 111-block East Village/Lower East Side rezoning protected the area just east of Bowery, but the east side of the street itself was left out.

“We tried to get the east side included, but it didn’t happen,” Sawaryn said.

“We felt it was important to preserve the wholesale lighting, restaurant-supply and jewelry businesses that remain on the Bowery,” said Mitchell Grubler, a member of BAN. “Rezoning was the only way to do that before those businesses are forced out by expensive high-rise development.”

Sawaryn noted that when the East Village and Lower East Side were rezoned, Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber issued a letter calling for consultation among the Department of City Planning, Bowery neighbors and Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents the area, to develop new zoning for the corridor along the east side of the Bowery. Gerson told the June 16 forum he intended to support new zoning for the street’s unprotected east side.

Diether developed the BAN plan as an unpaid volunteer.

“It was simple. I just brought the provisions of the Special Little Italy District from the west side to the east side of Bowery,” Diether said. She noted that 85 percent of the buildings on the street’s east side already conform to the proposed new zoning.

Other provisions brought from the west side of Bowery to the east side include 60 percent lot coverage for residential buildings and 70 percent lot coverage for commercial buildings, which, however, may cover the entire lot on the ground floor.

Residential conversion of commercial space would not be allowed except by special permit by City Planning. But if a commercial building had been occupied as residential on Sept. 1, 1980, City Planning could waive some requirements after review by the city Office of Economic Development.

BAN has come up with 15 buildings of special significance between Canal and E. Ninth Sts. that it hopes will have protection against demolition under the new zoning. Two of those buildings — 97 Bowery at Hester St. and 357 Bowery between E. Third and E. Fourth Sts. — were calendared for Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings this week.

Also of special significance are many 19th-century and early 20th-century buildings from the days when “Bowery” was a byword for louche entertainment.

The building at 101 Bowery, built in 1870, was Worth’s Museum of Living Curiosities; 135 Bowery is a vacant Federal-style building dating from about 1809 that has served as a hotel and in 1890 as Red, White and Blue, a gambling den; 161 Bowery between Broome and Delancey Sts. was built in 1895.
The Lower East Side’s German immigrant heritage is represented by 185 Bowery, a four-story building on the north side of Delancey St. that was a location of Germania Bank, which also built the palazzo-style building at 215 Bowery on the north side of Rivington St.

At 219-221 Bowery between Rivington and Stanton Sts. is the Alabama, a Bowery flophouse since 1967. It was built in the 19th century to a design by James Ware as a hotel.

The Bowery Mission has occupied 227 Bowery since 1908. Built in 1879 between Rivington and Stanton Sts., it has a large stained-glass window on the second floor. Bowery Mission also occupies 229 Bowery, built in 1840.

The much-altered building at 313-315 Bowery was originally a hotel but it was the home of the famed CBGB music club until recently. The building at 319 Bowery, built in 1899 by Julius Blackwell as a cigar factory and converted in 1926 as the Holy Name Mission, in 1962 became the Amato Opera, which closed earlier this month.

Still existing in the shadow of the 23-story Cooper Square Hotel, nearing completion, is a 19th-century row house, which was review by L.P.C. but denied landmark designation.

The St. Mark’s Hotel at 73 Bowery on the south side of St. Mark’s Pl. was the former Valencia Hotel and was the home of the Five Spot jazz cafe. The Greek-revival style building 23 Third Ave. on the north side of St. Mark’s Pl. is also on BAN’s proposed list of buildings of special significance.

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