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


Burden is doing the right thing; so should B.S.A.

Two hotly contested development projects were the subject of hearings before the Board of Standards and Appeals last week and the situations merit a closer look at how they are being handled — and, in one case, mishandled.

The developers of one of the projects, the Arman Building at 482 Greenwich St. in Hudson Square, are seeking variances for increased height, no setbacks to allow sheer walls and increased lot coverage. Although the B.S.A. hasn’t ruled, two commissioners showed encouraging signs that they’re taking a hard look and are skeptical of the developers’ economic hardship claims.

We were happy to discover that Amanda Burden, City Planning commissioner, wrote B.S.A. Chairperson Meenakshi Srinivasan a letter opposing the Arman application’s most problematic aspects. Burden said she opposed granting variances for added bulk and setback exemptions. She vigorously advocated for preserving the new zoning of Hudson Square that she put in place, with strong community support, in 2003.

On the other hand, the Department of Buildings continues to defend its actions at 81 E. Third St., the so-called “Half-Dorm,” that is 13 stories tall because it was built under the community facilities zoning allowance. Without this bonus, it would only have been seven stories and blended in on this typical East Village side street.

This building was granted a zoning bonus, yet built without having a tenant in place with a signed lease. Richard Kusack of the Committee for Zoning Inaction filed an Article 78 lawsuit to get D.O.B. to state its reasons for why this could happen, after which Kusack filed an appeal with the B.S.A. asking that the bonus floors be removed.

Several months after the building’s completion, New York Law School leased it for a student dormitory. D.O.B. now argues the whole incident was “harmless” because an institutional tenant emerged.

Although the procedure of having a tenant in place always existed, this was the first blatant violation of it in Manhattan, according to Kusack. As a result, Buildings resolved to tighten up enforcement of what will from now on be a hard-and-fast rule.

One result is that D.O.B. didn’t issue a permit for Gregg Singer’s 19-story dormitory project at the former CHARAS/El Bohio/old P.S. 64 building on E. Ninth St.: Singer didn’t have a signed lease with an educational institution; D.O.B. didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

But developers who abuse zoning must learn they’ll get more than a wrist slap. Once these jumbo buildings go up, it’s easy to argue hardship if they remain empty.

The B.S.A. must order that the extra floors added at 81 E. Third St. be removed. Anything less gives the impression developers don’t face consequences for wrongdoing. City Planning is doing right by defending Hudson Square’s rezoning. We hope the B.S.A. will take the same approach to protect Downtown Manhattan from the abuse of community facilities zoning.

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