Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

City Planning approves overhaul of zoning in the Far West Village

By Albert Amateau

The City Planning Commission on Monday unanimously approved the plan to preserve the low-rise character of most of the 14-block Far West Village without changes from the original plan outlined two weeks ago at its public hearing.

The commission’s approval of the Far West Village Rezoning on Sept. 26, the earliest date possible, means that the City Council could make the plan final before Thanksgiving.

Preservation advocates have urged the fast-track rezoning because developers are racing to “beat the clock” with projects as large as possible before final adoption of the new plan.

Preservationists were pleased this week that the commission resisted requests by several developers for their sites to be exempted from the low-density zoning.

But the commission also rejected preservationists’ urgent demands for downzoning two key sites, The Superior Ink factory on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts., where the new zoning allows slightly denser development though with a new height cap added, and the four-story Whitehall Storage building between Charles and W. 10th Sts., a site neither downzoned nor limited in height but cut out of the rezoning.

“We’re very happy that the commission did not roll back the downzoning on any of the sites,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “As for the Superior Ink and the Whitehall sites, we’ll take that fight to the City Council, the B.S.A. [Board of Standards and Appeals] and the court of public opinion,” Berman added.

The Related Companies, developer of the Superior Ink site, applied in April to the B.S.A. for a variance that would allow residential development 195 feet tall, surpassing even the proposed zoning, which imposes a 120-foot height limit.

Among developers seeking exemption from the rezoning is Coalco NY, the new owner of the former Diane von Furstenberg townhouses at 385 W. 12th St. Edward Baquero, Coalco managing partner, sought zoning for an unusual project designed by Christian de Portzamparc, that would keep the three-story townhouses facing W. 12th St. and behind them build an asymmetrical stack of glass cubes rising six stories.

Gary Timarkin, an architect and developer who owns 393-397 W. 12th St., acknowledged two weeks ago that he was “trying to beat the clock” to develop his property. He sought zoning for a 3,700-square-foot project on the site now zoned to allow 2,800 square feet.

Developers currently building additions to their properties include Richard Born, owner of a garage building at 166 Perry St., and Julian Schnabel, owner of a building at 360 W. 11th St., according to Berman.

Berman said the timely approval of the Far West Village zoning along with landmark designation will go a long way to preserving the character of the Village waterfront area between West and Washington Sts. from Horatio to Barrow Sts.

Landmark designation was conceived as part of the preservation drive by G.V.S.H.P. The society persuaded City Planning and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to act together. The formal landmarks initiative began last week when the L.P.C. agreed to calendar a hearing on the long-awaited extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District and the creation of a Weehawken St. district.

Robert Tierney, L.P.C. commissioner, said the two districts would be heard simultaneously, but the hearing date has not been set. The proposed Weehawken St. District includes 13 buildings on Weehawken, West and Christopher Sts. The proposed Greenwich Village Historic District extension includes 35 buildings on the three square blocks bounded by Perry, Christopher, Washington and Greenwich Sts.

Calendaring a Landmarks hearing adds a layer of protection to an area by giving L.P.C. time to review plans to demolish or alter a building and consider designating it a landmark.

Also calendared for the landmarks hearing are 139 and 143 Charles St., 689 Washington St. and 177 Christopher St., which have been added to the proposed Greenwich Village Historic District extension.

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