Volume 75, Number 8 | July 13- 20, 2005

Can’t get no satisfaction from zoning certification

By Albert Amateau

Eve Tylor, who is working for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation this summer, delivered the society’s final batch of several hundred letters from Villagers and other supporters to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Planning Commission on Friday. The letters are part of a lobbying effort to get the mayor and Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden to change the provisions of the Far West Zoning plan regarding the Superior Ink and Whitehall Storage sites, as well as two “carve-outs” on Charles St. Over the last year and a half, G.V.S.H.P. has collected and delivered more than 6,000 letters to the city on saving the Far West Village.
The Department of City Planning on Monday certified the plan to preserve the Far West Village — without any of the changes that civic groups and elected officials said were needed to maintain the low-rise character of a neighborhood where new glass residential towers are springing up on the waterfront.

The July 11 certification begins the city uniform land use review procedure on a plan that would reduce the allowable building density in most of the 14-block area between West and Washington Sts. from Horatio to Barrow Sts.

But three key sites would be zoned to allow either bigger buildings or remain at the same building density allowed under current zoning. While Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, was disappointed that the changes were rejected, he said the ULURP, usually a seven-month process, should proceed as fast as possible to take advantage of the protection that the new zoning would provide.

“There are aspects of the new zoning that we want to see in place,” he said shortly after the City Planning action on July 11. “Developers are already lining up to get permits to build under the current zoning,” Berman said.

Among changes that preservationists wanted is a downzoning of the site currently occupied by the two-story Superior Ink factory. Under the city’s plan, the location on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts. would be slightly upzoned from a floor-to-area ratio of 5 to an F.A.R. of 5.25. F.A.R. refers to the total area of a building in relation to the area of the lot that it occupies.

In any case, The Related Companies, which controls the Superior Ink site, is seeking a Board of Standards and Appeals zoning variance to allow them to build a 23-story residential building.

Another contentious site in the plan is the location of the current four-story Whitehall Storage building that extends from Charles to W.10th Sts. between West and Washington Sts. The site would retain its current 6.02 F.A.R., while the blocks to the north and south of it would be downzoned. The owners, The Witkoff Organization and Lehman Brothers plan to build on top of it to create a 17-story, 200-foot-tall residential building, which is allowed under current zoning.

Preservationists also want two adjacent single-story garage buildings at Charles and Washington Sts. to be preserved, either by zoning or designation, as a city landmark to prevent their being replaced by high-rise development.

The July 11 certification will allow the Community Board 2 Zoning Committee to hold a July 14 hearing and the full C.B.2 to consider the matter and vote on a recommendation on July 21. The Manhattan Borough Board — made up of representatives of all 12 Manhattan community boards — could then make a recommendation by Aug. 20 and the City Council vote could come as early as the end of September. “We’re urging all those agencies to vote as soon as possible,” said Berman, noting that modifications by the City Council are still possible.

City Councilmember Christine Quinn said on Tuesday that when the plan reaches the City Council she would “work to assure it is as far-reaching and comprehensive as needed in order to maintain the context and character of the Village.”

At a C.B.2 public forum on June 9, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden and Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Robert Tierney said the plan would be certified and the review procedure would begin June 20.

But the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, a Village civic group, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick urged the certification be deferred to July 11 to give neighbors three more weeks to suggest changes.

City Planning agreed to the deferral but stuck to its original proposal on the grounds that it was the best balance of preservation interests and reasonable development.

In a letter to Commissioner Burden two weeks ago, Glick outlined her concerns about the rezoning and said it did not go far enough.

“It’s regrettable that the City Planning Commission didn’t make the changes that the community wanted,” said Glick on Tuesday. “But it was worthwhile to have additional time for the community to understand the positive elements and the serious shortcomings of the plan,” she said.

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