Volume 75, Number 18 | September 21 - 27, 2005

The proposed “stacked-box” design for 383-391 W. 12th St., center, by Christian de Portzamparc. The developer, Coalco NY, is asking to be removed from the rezoning because of the expense of having a prize-winning architect design the project.

Two sites still in question, but rezoning is moving fast

By Albert Amateau

The City Planning Commission’s Sept. 14 hearing on the plan intended to forestall the imminent threat of high-rise development in the low-rise Far West Village drew more than 100 neighbors who called for quick action to preserve the character of the 14-block waterfront area.

“There really are developers racing to get foundations into the ground before the new zoning is adopted,” David Reck, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Zoning Committee, told the commission.

Wearing stickers that said “Downzone the Far West Village,” neighbors who testified at the C.P.C. land-use hearing generally supported the plan to rezone the area between West and Washington Streets roughly from Horatio Street down to Barrow Street, and called for a vote on the measure as soon as possible.

But advocates, led by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation whose lobbying over the past year convinced City Planning to propose the downzoning plan, also demanded changes for two key sites.

One change for which they called was for the Superior Ink site of the two-story late 19th-century factory building on West Street between Bethune and W. 12th Streets, where the new zoning would allow denser and taller development than current zoning. The Related Companies controls the site and has applied to the Board of Standards and Appeals for a variance that would allow residential development 195 feet tall, surpassing even the proposed zoning, with a 120-foot height limit. The development company, however, recently indicated it would build three-or-four-story townhouses on Bethune Street and a 12-or-13-story building on West Street — but neighbors want a still smaller project.

The other change demanded was for the site of the four-story Whitehall Storage building at Charles and W. 10th Sts. Neither downzoned nor limited in height, the Whitehall site was essentially cut out of the rezoning proposal. The Witkoff Organization, which owns the Whitehall building, has agreed to reduce its proposed residential redevelopment from a height of 195 feet to 175 feet, but preservation advocates insisted the project be reduced further.

Nevertheless, advocates at the hearing said a City Planning vote by Sept. 28 would go a long way toward heading off impending out-of-scale projects. In response, City Planning said the day after the hearing that the agency could vote on the measure as early as Sept. 26.

Both City Councilmember Christine Quinn, who was not at the Sept. 14 hearing, and Berman hailed City Planning’s early vote, which would allow the Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, of which Quinn is a member, to hold its own hearing on Oct. 7. The fast-track land-use review could result in the West Village rezoning being adopted in November.

The Council has the option in some cases to change provisions when it votes on a zoning proposal. Although a change in the Whitehall site zoning is likely to be out of the scope of the proposal, a change in the Superior Ink site could be imposed by the Council, Berman suggested.

Proposals by the developers to change the massing of the new building on the Superior Ink site and the configuration of the enlarged Whitehall Storage building “would be like rearranging the deck chairs on these two titanic sites,” said Berman, insisting that the density of the sites is the overarching concern.

Preservationists also urged the commission not to grant requests by two developers to roll back the proposed zoning on their sites.

Coalco NY, the new owner of the former Diane von Furstenberg townhouses at 385 W. 12th St., wants to be excluded from the zoning for an unusual project designed by the internationally known architect, Christian de Portzamparc, said Edward Baquero, Coalco managing partner.

Baquero told the Planning Commission that his project, which would exceed the height and density of the proposed rezoning, would keep the three-story townhouses facing W. 12th Street, while behind these, a new building resembling an asymmetrical stack of glass cubes would rise six stories.

The extra density is needed to pay for the expense of a project designed by a prize-winning architect, said Baquero, who added he was confident his project would add to the value of the neighborhood.

Berman said Baquero has met with preservationists and elected officials on the project. “We have approached his project with an open mind but we’re not convinced of the appropriateness of rolling back the downzoning here at all,” Berman said.

Quinn said later that she also has seen the Coalco NY plans for the site, and she too does not think a zoning rollback would be appropriate.

Gary Timarkin, an architect and developer who owns 393 W. 12th St., acknowledged that he was “trying to beat the clock” to develop his low-rise property. He told the commission he needed to build a 3,700-square-foot project on the site now zoned to allow 2,800 square feet. “It’s not a very big difference to the neighborhood, but it’s a vast difference in the economics of this party,” said Timarkin.

State Senator Tom Duane testified in favor of the downzoning and also called for changes in the Superior Ink and Whitehall sites. Assemblymember Deborah Glick submitted written testimony in favor of quick adoption of the West Village plan but denouncing the Superior Ink upzoning and the elimination of the Whitehall site from the proposal.

George Cominskie, head of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council, also called for downzoning the Superior Ink site, which is just across Bethune Street from the Westbeth complex between Bank and Bethune Sts.

Katie Bordonaro, co-chairperson of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force and president of the West Village Houses Tenants Association, also demanded lower zoning for the Superior Ink site, whose north end is across W. 12th Street from some of the three-story West Village Houses buildings.

Bordonaro affirmed the task force’s support for the downzoning of the blocks of Charles Lane, Perry Street and Charles Streets. “They are the very heart of the Far West Village yet are not protected by landmarks status,” she said. “The current proposal to downzone this area to a 3 F.A.R. would provide a significant level of protection and ensure that any new development would respect the scale of the surrounding streetscape,” she added. F.A.R., floor-area ratio, refers to the relation of floor space in a project to the footprint of the property.

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