Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005


A fast rezoning is just what East Side needs now

We’ve all been hearing a lot about community facilities lately, whether it’s in reference to the overwhelmingly opposed University House dorm project on E. Ninth St., the “stealth” dorm on E. Third St. — now being filled by New York Law School — or the black-shrouded monstrosity at Third St. and the Bowery that is, of latest word, being converted into a hotel. So far, though, there has been no coherent strategy to stop the use and misuse of this zoning allowance that permits buildings double or triple the size of residential buildings to be constructed.

A new zoning study by the highly regarded BFJ Planning urban-planning group, commissioned by the East Village Community Coalition, though, offers a thoroughly researched solution and encouragement that an answer is in sight.

Specifically, the BFJ study recommends an R7-A or R7-B zoning for the East Village. These zonings would limit building heights to either 75 or 80 feet; regardless of whether a building is planned as residential or a community facility — such as a dorm, school, hospital or religious facility — they would all be capped at the same height. Community facilities would no longer get a zoning bonus for extra height and bulk. Another option offered in the study is just to impose a height cap across the district without changing the zoning.

Called a 197-c, this zoning change can be made in as quickly as one to two years, as opposed to a longer 197-a process. While more remains to be done, we basically agree with Community Board 3 and E.V.C.C. that this proposal seems like the best path to take at this particular moment.

We’re heartened to hear that City Planning and Mayor Bloomberg so far appear receptive to the BFJ/E.V.C.C. proposal. The change is essential because the East Village is really lacking in protection. Only negligible parts of it are landmarked, as opposed to Greenwich Village, and its zoning hasn’t been changed in about 40 years. Meanwhile, economic and development pressures are accelerating change at a before-unseen rate.

No one doubts, for example, that if the Catholic Archdiocese succeeds in demolishing historic St. Brigid’s Church that this site would soon be developed as a high-end apartment building.

C.B. 3 also plans to study other areas south of Houston St. for rezoning where tall towers have been and are springing up altering the landscape — from the new Hotel on Rivington to now Blue, a 16-story futuristic-looking luxury tower planned on the former Ratner’s restaurant parking lot.

E.V.C.C. deserves credit for taking the initiative to retain a top urban planning firm to do the initial groundwork needed to get the ball rolling on a fast-track rezoning. And C.B. 3 and its chairperson, David McWater, are, of course, to be commended for first advancing the idea of rezoning. Councilmember Margarita Lopez’s allocating C.B. 3 $50,000 to continue its rezoning work is another key contribution that will help insure the job gets done.

Right now, the rezoning effort looks to be hitting on all cylinders — we just hope that the changes are made in time to preserve this historically significant low-scale, low-density neighborhood from the proliferation of the luxury high-rises.

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