Volume 75, Number 20 | October 05 - 11, 2005

Critics of Superior Ink project heartened by hearing

By Albert Amateau

West Village preservation advocates last week took their fight against a 195-foot-tall residential tower on the Superior Ink factory site on the Village waterfront to the Board of Standards and Appeals.

The Related Companies went before the B.S.A. on Sept. 28 for a variance to both the current zoning and the proposed West Village rezoning plan in order to replace the four-story 1919 factory building on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts. with a high-rise tower designed by the architect Charles Gwathmey.

But preservation groups and residential neighbors wearing buttons reading “Too Big Too Tall” and “No More Giveaways to Related” crowded the hearing room to testify against the variance and in defense of the low-rise character of a West Village neighborhood threatened by the onslaught of high-rise projects.

Elected officials including City Councilmember Christine Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Tom Duane and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler also submitted testimony favoring a smaller project and Community Board 2 reaffirmed its opposition to the variance.

Despite hearing from more than 30 people, including the architect, two lawyers and a financial consultant for Related and 19 residents, the B.S.A. chairperson, Meenakshi Srinivasan, ordered the hearing continued on Nov. 2.

Opponents of the project were heartened by the board chairperson’s persistent questioning of Related representatives on the finances of the project and the need for an F.A.R. in excess of current zoning and in excess of the proposed zoning which the City Council is likely to approve around mid-November. F.A.R., floor-to-area ratio, refers to the relation of the amount of floor space in a project to the area of the property’s footprint.

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said later that he was gratified by the questions Srinivasan asked the applicant. The society wants a smaller project on the site, but has not specified the desired F.A.R. Ideally, they would like to see the existing old factory building landmarked.

Doris Diether, presenting the Community Board 2 resolution on Related’s variance application, noted that C.B. 2 had urged the City Planning Department to mandate an F.A.R. of 4 for the site but that the department’s new zoning would allow a total F.A.R. of 5.24, while the current manufacturing zoning of the site has a 5.02 F.A.R.

The B.S.A. can allow zoning variances if a developer shows that he cannot make a reasonable return on investment with a project that complies with existing zoning. Related Companies is claiming unusually high construction costs because of conditions such as high water levels and irregular lot shape in relation to expected revenue from the project. The developer is also seeking a variance to allow underground parking for 60 vehicles, nearly double the garage space that would be allowed under the proposed new zoning.

Diether said a building made possible by the variance “would have a devastating impact” on the neighborhood. She also questioned the developer’s assertion that the shape of the lot is unique. “All the lots in the area are odd shapes,” she noted.

Opposition to the proposed variance has remained strong despite The Related Companies’ agreement to scale down the size of its Superior Ink project from 23-stories and 270 feet tall to 16 stories and 195 feet tall.

The city’s proposed new zoning would likely result in a wraparound building 80 feet tall on Bethune St. — across from the Westbeth artists residence — and 120 feet tall on West St. — affecting the views and light of 380 W. 12th St. and across W. 12th St. from 495 West St.

“We’re not enamored of the current or the new zoning for the Superior Ink site,” said Berman. Residents of Westbeth, 380 W. 12th St. and 495 West St. told the B.S.A. that they were against the new zoning and also unhappy with the tower that would result from the variance The Related Companies is seeking. Westbeth residents want the tower shifted to the northern side of the Superior Ink site and residents of the W. 12th St. and West St. buildings want the tower shifted south, but both agree the project is too tall.

In her prepared testimony to the B.S.A, Councilmember Quinn said, “The Related Companies has expressed a willingness to continue negotiations about the placement of the tower and I appreciate the opportunity to continue these discussions until the optimal outcome is reached.” Quinn asked the B.S.A. to hold off on any variance application until the new zoning is in place in mid-November. It is quite likely, given the Nov. 2 date of the extended B.S.A. hearing, that the decision would come after the adoption of the new zoning.

In addition, Related Companies wants apartments in the tower to have 11-foot-high ceilings, but neighbors want the B.S.A. to impose a shorter floor-to-ceiling height that would result in a smaller building. Srinivasan appeared to agree with residents; she asked the developers’ representatives if the 11-foot ceiling height was necessary for the economic viability of the project.

Glick’s prepared testimony noted that the Superior Ink site is currently zoned for manufacturing. She said she hopes Related Companies would try to find a tenant for the adaptive reuse of the current building from among uses allowed in the current zoning.

George Cominskie, president of the Westbeth Artists Resident Council in the Westbeth complex converted 40 years ago to living and work quarters for artists, presented 265 letters to the B.S.A. opposing the variance application.

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