Volume 74, Number 55 | May 25 - 31 , 2005


Waterfront plan won’t hold water with loopholes

The double-barreled proposal coming out of the Bloomberg administration to rezone and landmark a 14-block area between the Greenwich Village Historic District and the Hudson River is amazingly good news for the Far West Village.

Many details of the two plans aren’t yet fully known, though the first hearing on City Planning’s rezoning will be in two weeks. More is known about the rezoning — less about the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s proposal, which no one outside L.P.C. seems to have seen yet.

In 1963, Jane Jacobs wrote a letter to the nascent L.P.C., stressing that the Village waterfront be included in any landmarking designation. Jacobs recognized the importance of the waterfront, and she wanted to preserve the mix of uses it then still harbored.
Thankfully, the Bloomberg administration is intervening now to put the brakes on rampant development that threatens to wipe out the historic waterfront and replace it with high-tech, luxury condo towers for the super rich.

However, there is one concern with City Hall’s proposal, in that it seems to carve out pockets where developers would still have free rein to build behemoths. We’re talking about the Whitehall Mini-Storage warehouse spanning midblock between Charles and 10th Sts. and the Superior Ink building on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts. Probably the most serious oversight is regarding the warehouse property, which Planning is not downzoning at all. Steve Witkoff, who is developing this property with Lehmann Brothers, says he only plans to build 17 — not the maximun height, 32 — stories. Yet, this is still far too massive by community standards. No one in the Village wants another Morton Square, a building that looks like a corporate headquarters on a suburban parkway. Witkoff says he’ll make the building contextual, with setbacks, but the city needs to impose a lower cap here.

As for Superior Ink, where Related plans a 23-story tower, rumors that Planning is supporting allowing residential use on the manufacturing-zoned site are also troubling. Planning says it is proposing a slight downzoning. Again, more is needed.

These developers knew all along that the community was pushing for landmarking and rezoning. They’ll still profit plenty if they put up smaller, contextual buildings. The market is at dizzying heights, and studies show landmarking increases property values.

Much credit is due for getting this far, which is, indeed, far. Andrew Berman and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which a year ago proposed the rezoning and landmarking, deserve our congratulations for the tremendous job they’ve done. The Greenwich Village Block Associations’ town hall with the mayor and his commissioners last year was a factor in projecting a unified message. It was clearly a mobilized community which has rallied around the campaign and sent thousands of postcards to the mayor and Landmarks Commissioner Robert Tierney and Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, that really made this happen.

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