Volume 75, Number 5 | July 6 - 12, 2005

Don’t vary from rezoning, deny variances

Two years ago, the City Planning Commission passed a major rezoning for Hudson Square, changing the zoning in the neighborhood’s southern portion from manufacturing to residential and commercial for new projects and downzoning all the area save for one small corner.

That corner, the northwest corner of Greenwich and Canal Sts., owned by Arman the sculptor, was actually slightly upzoned by City Planning from a floor-to-area ratio of 5 to an F.A.R. of 6.02, allowing a bigger building to be built on it.

Now, a plan is being put forth by Arman and a group with a contract to buy the vacant triangular lot to construct a new apartment tower — and they are seeking variances. Under the new zoning, the building can be eight stories tall and contain 18,880 square feet of space. But Arman and the development group want three variances to allow a building 11 stories tall with 25,000 square feet.

When Planning rezoned Hudson Square — the increasingly upscale neighborhood south of the Village, west of Soho and north of Tribeca, formerly known as the Printing District — it sought to end the area’s planning, or lack thereof, by so-called “spot zoning.” The latter had been the norm in recent years, as residential variances for two big luxury buildings were granted on Greenwich St.

Planning Commissioner Amana Burden did a great job on the Hudson Square rezoning, which recognizes the area’s low-scale character and density. The rezoning was widely hailed by the community and Councilmember Christine Quinn. But now we call on Burden to protect the rezoning by going to bat against the Arman variances when they go before the Board of Standards and Appeals.

And we call on Community Board 2’s Zoning Committee to vote against all three variances — for extra F.A.R.; 100 percent, instead of 80 percent, lot coverage; and an exemption from streetwall setbacks on Canal St. — at its July 14 meeting.

In environmental terms, a building of this height, covering the full lot, with a sheer Canal St. wall would add to the existing pollution problem on this stretch of Canal St. near the Holland Tunnel, funneling carcinogens down Greenwich St.

Also, the hardships developers typically claim to justify variances are exaggerated. In the case of the eponymous Arman Building, one hardship claim is that the subsurface is landfill. Yet, every new building west of Greenwich St. faces such conditions — and all these other projects, like Morton Square, are reaping huge returns.

Full disclosure: The Villager’s office, which is owned by the newspaper, is across Greenwich St. from the Arman project. Yet, the opposition to this project is communitywide. And the problem of variances is citywide. It’s time to put an end to these undeserved bonuses, especially in just-rezoned Hudson Square, but also throughout the Far West Village, Lower East Side and other areas where development is booming and builders don’t need a helping hand.

Just say No to the Arman variances.

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