Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006

Diagram of the proposed Arman Building at Canal and Greenwich Sts.

B.S.A. chips away at Arman Building hardship claims

By Chad Smith

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals expressed skepticism on Jan. 23 about the economic hardship claim submitted for a building planned at 482 Greenwich St. on property owned by the late sculptor Arman.

Meenakshi Srinivasan, B.S.A. chairperson, had particular qualms with the quoted cost of construction material. The cost, she said, with a hint of sarcasm, might have been “slightly exaggerated,” and she asked for a resubmission.

The builders need to prove economic hardship in order to get a variance to surpass their eight-story zoning limit and build to the proposed height of 11 floors. The only way to turn a profit, the developers argue, is with a building of that height.

Architects from Thomas McKay, the firm working with the developer, Red Brick L.L.C., also tried to prove hardship by drawing attention to the irregular shape of the building lot at the corner of Greenwich and Canal Sts. The architects say the irregularly shaped triangular space will cost much more to build on.

When asked by the board whether he had considered how the building would affect the community, Garrett Gourlay, one of the developer’s architects, said he “knew it wouldn’t have an adverse one, because the five similar buildings that have recently gone up in the area are doing fine.”

Over the last few years, the B.S.A. has granted several zoning variances to Hudson Square developers, who used them to build large condo projects near the site of the Arman project. The variances prompted the City Planning Commission to change the neighborhood’s zoning, which allowed residential construction and set less strict height limits.

But community members Tuesday said that the Arman space was never suitable for a tall building, anyhow.

“The developer is simply wanting to impose more on this lot than it can handle,” said Richard Barrett, an architect who spoke on behalf of the local residents and building owners against a taller construction and lives next door to the site.

The only two of the five B.S.A. commissioners to speak on the matter, Srinivasan and James Chin, both were skeptical of the developer’s economic case, and questioned the size of the building and the need for terraces.

In addition, in August, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden wrote a strongly worded letter to the B.S.A.’s Srinivasan opposing the zoning-busting variance applications, specifically the height and setback variance applications.

“The department believes that the requested increase in F.A.R. to 7.89 represents an unwarranted departure from the area’s underlying zoning regulations,” Burden wrote, noting that Planning “approved the Hudson Square zoning in 2003 after a comprehensive study of the area.”

Burden was more accepting of the lot-coverage variance application, saying it “may be justified” due to the lot’s shallowness.

The developments at the hearing were just another strain in the already tense relationship between community and builders on Greenwich St.

It all started over a year ago, when Red Brick Canal L.L.C. approached the acclaimed sculptor Arman in hopes of purchasing his land and building a residence bearing his name. Arman, who died last October, bought the property in 1977, and its value has since soared.

The building will be designed in the spirit of the artist’s work, with an Arman sculpture facing the corner on Canal St. Although those who knew the artist are not arguing with the aesthetics of the design, Arman “didn’t want the building to be so high,” asserted Victoria Faust, who has lived on Canal St. for 30 years. The sculptor was alive when the plan was first submitted and never opposed it publicly.

The battle continues, as the board will reconvene to hear the case on March 7.

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