Volume 76, Number 9 | July 19 - 25, 2006

13th St. undulating-glass building gives Zoning Committee the jitters

By Gerard Flynn

Donald Trump wasn’t the only developer to get the thumbs down from Community Board 2’s Zoning Committee during its meeting at Housing Works on W. 13th St. on Thursday evening.

An application for eight changes to existing zoning laws for a proposed 11-story, 36-unit luxury condominium complex on a vacant parking lot at 122 Greenwich Ave. was also rejected by the board.

Representatives for the developer, the Hines organization, had argued that the variances were essential in order for the multinational firm to avoid economic hardship in undertaking the project.

Under current zoning regulations, if the owner of a development site can prove economic loss due to current zoning laws — hardship — the city will grant zoning variances.

However, after hearing Hines’s case, the committee unanimously disagreed and, as an advisory body to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, will inform the agency of its decision, which may have some bearing on the authority’s overall decision on the project.

The board committee also frowned at the design’s undulating glass facade and the scale of its tower portion, concluding that the size and look of the design of the tower did not fit into the neighborhood’s quaint, low-rise character.

Hines wants to raise the height of the building by 15 feet as well as add several bulk variances, which would include extending the back of the 60,000-square-foot complex to make the luxury units more spacious and therefore more alluring to prospective buyers, representatives for the developer argued.

They also requested a variance for the 4,800 square feet of retail space that would form the base of the building, submitting proposals to raise the ceiling by several feet.

That Hines’s team were going to have about as much luck as Trump was evident midway through the hearing when, after seeing a presentation for the project, Leonard Cecere of C.B. 2 laughed it off as a “God-awful, ugly looking building,” which drew a raucous round of applause and cheers from the packed dining hall.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but we did hire a world-class architect for the site,” replied Steve Lefkowitz, a land-use lawyer representing Hines, to which Ceceere shot back, “It should reflect a people’s view and not simply a view of a cabal of architects,” which also drew applause from the audience.

Cecere’s cheeky characterization was amplified by Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, which had vigorously fought the development with a multitude of other community groups for many months.

Berman said that while some owners face genuine hardships and are entitled to variances, others, like Hines, falsely claim them.

“Almost every developer that comes forward claims they have some sort of hardship, that they need to make changes in order to turn a profit. In this case, there isn’t any demonstrable evidence other than the fact they paid an arm and a leg for the site,” he told the committee.

“This is a design that does not work and which the community does not want, and here they are asking for more of the same,” Berman continued. “It’s hard to imagine that there is no way to make a profit on this site unless they are allowed to build an extra-large building that will take more of our light and more of our air.”

The project at the intersection of 13th St. and Eight Ave. was given the green light by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in May and is slated to start construction within the next few months, if it gets the nod from the B.S.A. A date for a hearing has not yet been set.

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