Volume 75, Number 4 | June 15- 21, 2005


City’s rezoning plan is good, but it must do more to be great

The presentation of the joint rezoning and landmarking plan for the Far West Village received an enthusiastic reception from an eager audience of 300 residents last Thursday. This was the public’s first opportunity to see the city’s proposal.

Without question, this joint proposal is a huge step in the right direction. Most of the Far West Village area is being downzoned significantly and part of the area outside the Greenwich Village Historic District will be added onto the district as an extension. The downzoning limits the height of new development in most areas, while the landmarking will protect existing historic buildings currently at risk of demolition. Between the two of them, they will provide a fortified safeguard for the Far West Village and waterfront.

However, there are some serious concerns in the rezoning proposal, most notably two development sites — the current Superior Ink and Whitehall Mini-Storage buildings — as well as “carve-outs” along Charles St. at Greenwich St. where there are currently two garages. At all of these locations, the city’s rezoning plan still allows for inappropriately large development. Under the proposal, the Whitehall site has no change in zoning or buildable square footage. The Superior Ink site has a height cap added in the new plan, yet the overall floor-to-area ratio, or F.A.R., is increased from 5 to 5.2; this increased F.A.R. seems unjustifiable, particularly since Planning is agreeing to assist the developer by changing the zoning from manufacturing to residential. Finally, the carve-outs are smack in the middle of the proposed historic district extension. The failure to reduce all these sites’ zoning will lead to inappropriately large buildings sticking up like sore thumbs amid the area’s low buildings. What’s more, even downzoned, a new Related Companies building on the Superior Ink block would cut off light and air to artists’ windows on the lower floors of Westbeth.

Another issue is whether to request City Planning certify the rezoning plan on the date it has announced, June 20, or at a later date, July 11. Advocates for moving the date back, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick and the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront, feel there would be more opportunity for public input if the certification was pushed back. Others, including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, are anxious to have the rezoning certified, which puts the seventh-month-long city review process known as ULURP into motion. Advocates for postponing certification say Community Board 2 should still, as planned, review the proposal on July 14, fulfilling the board’s duty to give input.

It’s unclear how much Planning will respond to further lobbying at this point for more downzoning on the several disputed sites. On the other hand, if developers get their permits and get their foundations in the ground — or complete their rooftop extensions — before the City Council signs off on the rezoning, these projects will be allowed. It’s a tough judgment call on which is the better course of action.

However, the community’s views were made loud and clear last week: The plan being offered by the city is very good, but to be great it still needs to address the few sites that have been inadequately downzoned.

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