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


A critical moment for the East Village and Lower East Side
The community-initiated rezoning of the East Village and Lower East Side is exciting news. The process began in response to Gregg Singer’s 20-plus-story megadorm that he’s been trying to build — so far unsuccessfully — on the old P.S. 64/CHARAS/El Bohio site on E. Ninth St. the last few years.

Of course, that Singer has wanted to build a dormitory is no coincidence: New York University has made it clear it wants to build more dorms in the Village area. Its new, 26-story dorm on E. 12th St. now under construction, in fact, will be the East Village’s tallest building, and neighbors are beside themselves at how this could happen. Well, how it happened is by transferring air rights from the Cooper Station post office. And with Singer’s proposed dorm, it’s use of the community facilities allowance that would permit the building to be so tall.

What the rezoning coming out of the Department of City Planning does, most importantly, is cap building heights at 80 feet, or eight stories, in the East Village and low-scale sections of the Lower East Side. Yes, residential buildings would be allowed to be slightly taller than currently permitted under the zoning. However, the community facilities allowance would be slashed throughout the entire rezoning area — allowing nothing taller than a residential building — meaning gigantic towers would no longer be a possibility.

One feature of the package, inclusionary zoning, or I.Z., so far is being eyed cautiously by many. In return for making 20 percent of a building’s units permanently affordable, a developer would get a 40-foot height increase, up to a cap of 120 feet. This would only occur on wide thoroughfares, such as E. Houston and Delancey Sts., Avenue D and Chrystie St., that, Planning says, can accommodate this increased bulk and density.

While many residents back more affordable housing, there are also concerns that I.Z. will result in a wall of new tall glass towers and displacement of neighbors. Planning should consider heeding the call of many in the community asking that the developers only get any height bonus if they add affordable units.

Planning also needs to clarify whether, in effect, slightly raising residential heights could lead to a frenzy of landlords ripping off building cornices and adding sixth stories and penthouses on their rooftops. And C.B. 3’s requests for survey information on “soft sites” where development is likely should be met. This information will help board and task force members understand how many affordable units I.Z. could potentially create, and the I.Z. construction’s impact on density and services.

Yet, the most important point is that this is a golden opportunity to do something to protect the East Village and Lower East Side. The rezoning being offered now may not be perfect. But this is a good start.

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