Volume 75, Number 21 | October 12 - 18, 2005

With Council approval, West Village rezoning is law

By Albert Amateau

The plan to preserve the low-rise character of the Far West Village became law on Tuesday when the City Council voted unanimously to approve the new zoning for most of the 14-block area along the Village waterfront.

The Council’s Oct. 11 action completed the city uniform land use review procedure on the fast track urged by preservation advocates for the area where developers have been rushing to dig foundations to beat the deadline on the new low-rise zoning.

Because the plan certified by the Bloomberg administration’s City Planning Commission was approved without any changes, it becomes final without the mayor’s signature.

“The Far West Village is a unique historic neighborhood,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden at the Oct. 6 Council Zoning Committee meeting the week before the final approval.

“This is a balanced plan that protects the district but allows appropriate construction,” Burden said. “It fulfills the commitment that Mayor Bloomberg made to the community in 2004 to rezone the Far West Village and it is moving in tandem with the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s plan to extend the Greenwich Village Historic District and create a new Weehawken St. Historic District in the Far West Village.”

Preservation advocates were grateful about the fast-track rezoning even though they did not get everything they wanted, especially regarding two sites in the district.

The Superior Ink factory site, where the Related Companies plans a 195-foot-tall residential tower on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts., may have a slightly larger project under the new zoning.

And the Whitehall Storage site, which extends from Charles to W. 10th Sts. between West and Washington Sts., was cut out of the new zoning. The four-story warehouse on the site could be developed under the old zoning at an F.A.R. of 6.02 and result in a 32-story building. F.A.R., or floor-to-area ratio, refers to the relation between the total floor area of a building and the square footage of the footprint.

But Steven Witkoff, developer of the Whitehall site, said at the Oct. 6 committee hearing, “We have no intention of building to the maximum. We could have sunk a foundation and vested the right to build as of right under the old zoning, but that’s not the way I want to do business.”

Witkoff said he would build a residential “green” project with the latest environmentally advanced features no taller than 15 stories with a setback after the third or fourth floor. He also said he would include space for community use in the building. The Witkoff project is the result of negotiations with community representatives, including City Councilmember Christine Quinn and Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the developer said.

Berman acknowledged later that he met with Witkoff and was grateful for a project smaller than the maximum. “But that said, it must be remembered that the project is still out of scale for the neighborhood,” he said. “We still hope to convince [Witkoff] to build a smaller project,” he added.

Regarding the Superior Ink site, the Related Companies is seeking a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals from both the old and new zoning in order to build a 195-foot-tall residential tower to replace the old four-story factory building that dates from 1919. The B.S.A. hearing that began Sept. 28 will reconvene on Nov. 2.

Many preservationists were pleased that the new zoning was passed in time to stop Coalco NY from redeveloping property formerly owned by Diane Von Furstenberg that would keep the front of the three-story townhouses at 385 W. 12th St. and add an asymmetrical stack of glass cubes rising six stories behind them. But Ed Baquero, Coalco principal, said at the Oct. 6 hearing that nearby residents had agreed that the proposed Coalco project, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, was better than any design that would come from the new zoning.

Baquero said later that opponents would not support his project because a change would delay the implementation of the new zoning and allow other developers a chance to nibble away at the zoning.

A change that Cary Timarkin, an architect and developer, was seeking for 393-397 W. 12th St. to allow a 3,700-square-foot project, instead of the 2,800 square feet allowed under the new zoning, was also rejected. Although construction has started, Timarkin has indicated that he had not beaten the deadline, Berman said.

A project to add 11 stories totaling 110 feet in height to a three-story former stable at 360 W. 11th owned by the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel would also be prohibited under the new zoning, if the project had not been vested before the zoning’s approval. Berman said yesterday that he asked the Department of Buildings to revoke Schnabel’s building permit on the grounds that it violates the new zoning; but he conceded that construction at 360 W. 11th St. might be vested or, in other words, far enough along to allow the tower to be built under the old zoning.

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