Volume 76, Number 22 | October 18 - 24, 2006

Talking Point

Condo-hotel approval would Trump zoning protections

By Andrew Berman

It’s rare that a single, behind-closed-doors decision by the city has a profound and sweeping effect upon neighborhoods all across New York City. But that’s exactly what will happen when the city decides whether Donald Trump’s plan for a 45-story “condo-hotel” at Spring and Varick Sts. violates zoning laws. Neighborhoods like the West Village, Meatpacking District, Hudson Square, Tribeca, Soho, Noho and Chelsea are likely to be most intensely affected.

Here’s the rub: condo-hotels are a new, lucrative and increasingly popular hybrid of hotels and luxury residences, where all units in a building with full hotel services are purchased by individuals, who then either live in them — sometimes year-round — or rent them out as hotel rooms for a profit. Many do something in between, using their unit as a second home and renting it out the remainder of the year. These are wildly popular among the jet set and the young and wealthy in much of the country, and first appeared in New York in 1998.

But Trump’s new scheme would for the first time ever allow these condo-hotels in manufacturing zones. The problem is, residences and residential hotels are not allowed in manufacturing zones, while “transient hotels” — what one thinks of as a hotel, where guests rent rooms on a nightly basis for short stays — are allowed. Most of the Meatpacking District, the Far West Village south of Barrow St., Hudson Square, northern Tribeca and parts of Soho, Noho and West Chelsea are manufacturing zones, which is why few or no new residential high-rises have been built in these neighborhoods. And while some hotels have been built in some of these neighborhoods, condo-hotels — where profits are made upfront — are much more financially attractive to developers, and thus even more likely to proliferate. Also, under city rules, manufacturing zones do not mandate “contextual zoning,” which keeps new development similar in size, scale and height to its surroundings. So new condo-hotel development in these zones, like Trump’s 45-story monstrosity — to be the tallest building between Midtown and the Financial District — will probably take the form of tall towers surrounded by plazas, which the zoning encourages. Expect to see many more of these in our neighborhoods if the city gives this plan the green light.

You should also expect to see a change in the character of our neighborhoods, as the introduction of condo-hotels will push out longtime businesses that depend upon manufacturing zoning protections to survive where they are. Ironically, parts of some of these neighborhoods (Tribeca, Hudson Square, Far West Village and West Chelsea) were recently rezoned to allow new residential development in some areas, with the clear understanding that the remaining manufacturing zones would stay just as they are, protecting area businesses, and prohibiting new high-rise residential development. Further changes should require a full rezoning, requiring environmental reviews, public testimony and several votes.

Adding further insult to injury, when West Chelsea was rezoned and some (but not all) manufacturing zones changed to allow new luxury residential development, the city promised that all new residential development would carry incentives for creating affordable housing, some of which would be for area residents. While new luxury development in the area has moved ahead apace, it’s unclear how well the “incentives” are doing at creating actual affordable housing for residents. But if the city opens the remaining manufacturing zones to “condo-hotels” — which will have no affordable housing incentives attached to them whatsoever — it will likely further undermine commitments by the city to create affordable housing in these neighborhoods.

That’s why the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has been able to forge a coalition of elected officials and business and neighborhood groups from across the city, calling for disapproval of Trump’s plan and enforcement of the law against condo-hotels in manufacturing zones. West Chelsea gallery owners, the Tribeca Community Association, the Soho Alliance and G.V.S.H.P. have been joined by business and neighborhood groups from Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, the Garment District, Williamsburg/Greenpoint and Sunset Park in opposing this plan. Our local elected officials who oppose this plan — Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Tom Duane and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler — have been joined in their fight by elected officials from Brooklyn, Queens, Washington Heights and the Upper East and West Sides.

Because Trump is trying to argue that his project (and, by extension, all others like it) is allowed under the law, there are no public hearings, no environmental reviews and no votes — just an internal decision by the city on whether or not they believe Trump over common sense. The only way to get the city to do the right thing is to write now and urge them to reject this terrible plan that would so profoundly affect all our neighborhoods. Go to www.gvshp.org/trumplet.htm for a sample letter you can use, and to www.gvshp.org/trump.htm for more information and other ways to help.

Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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