West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 17 | Sept. 26 - Oct. 2, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Andrew Berman derided the Trump Soho Hotel Condominium — rising in the background — at a Sept. 19 rally against the project at Varick and Spring Sts.

Protesters thump Trump, Quinn, city at rally over ‘illegal’ hotel

By Albert Amateau

Donald Trump was cheerleading at a red-carpet press conference on Sept. 19 for the Trump Soho Hotel Condominium, now at 15 stories and going to 42, while more than 75 shouting and whistling protesters demonstrated across the street.

The demonstrators, led by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Tony Avella, chairperson of the City Council Zoning Subcommittee; and members of Commun–ity Board 2 and the Soho Alliance, blew shrill whistles and chanted, “Trump must go,” protesting what they say is an illegal and oversize project.

Inside the raw space at 246 Spring St. at Varick St., Trump told the crush of photographers, “I’d like to thank all those protesters outside for making this project so successful.”

The opponents, stopped by police from demonstrating across from the site on Spring St., were confined behind a barricade diagonally across the wider Varick St. Demonstrators acknowledged there was no chance to prevent completion of the project, but they still hoped to force Trump Soho to operate as a legal transient hotel rather than a residential building.

Trump’s press event, with son Donald, Jr., and daughter Ivanka alongside their dad, was the preview to the launch party for invited guests at 8 p.m. the same day to celebrate Trump Soho’s 3,200 applications for the 400-or-so condos expected to sell for an estimated $3,000 per square foot.

For the past year, opponents have been saying the Trump project is an illegal sham intended to violate zoning rules that prohibit residential development in the area. They say Trump Soho is not a permitted transient hotel but an apartment hotel illegal in the manufacturing zone.
Buyers into the Trump Soho condo — or the guests who rent units from them — will be able to live in their units for no more than 120 days a year, 29 days at a time, according to a restrictive declaration that Trump and his developer partners signed with the city Department of Buildings before the project was approved. The declaration was characterized by D.O.B. as “a voluntary but legally binding agreement.”

Trump and the Bayrock Group with Tamir Sapir, his partners in the project, have said the declaration makes the project legal, and the city has agreed. D.O.B. has said it intends to defend any court challenge to its approval of Trump Soho.

But Berman said last Wednesday, “D.O.B. has enough trouble keeping buildings from falling down — and we’re expected to believe they will monitor all 400-plus units at Trump’s condo to guarantee that his jet-set residents don’t stay more than the legally allowable number of days.”

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance neighborhood advocacy group and a member of Community Board 2, told protesters the Alliance expects eventually to go to court to force the city to rescind its approval. But overturning the Buildings Department permit first requires a formal written rejection from D.O.B., then an appeal to the Board of Standards and Appeals and a written rejection from B.S.A. D.O.B. last month rejected the Alliance’s request to pull the building permit. If the B.S.A. appeal fails, the Soho Alliance will initiate a lawsuit in State Supreme Court.

“That would be more than a year away and the building would be finished,” Sweeney said of a potential lawsuit. “But we think we can change Trump’s marketing the project as a condo and force him to run it as a transient hotel,” Sweeney said.

Moreover, opponents want to send a message to developers that they can’t flout zoning rules.

“We want them to know they can’t tread on Soho,” Sweeney said. Sweeney and Berman said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — whose district includes the condo-hotel site — had failed to follow up on their request to push for a rezoning of the area to prevent development of similar projects. Indeed, Sweeney came up with a new chant, “Who’s out? Who’s in? Where the hell is Christine Quinn?” taken up by the demonstrators at the protest.

Quinn, in fact, was at a Sept. 19 City Council hearing on the fatal Deutsche Bank fire, but she released a statement that said, in part, “Most recently we have written to the Department of City Planning in support of an amendment to the zoning text and have conducted numerous meetings with City Planning, the Mayor’s Office, community members and elected officials regarding such a change.”
Afterward, Berman said he was particularly incensed that police at the protest were seen wearing packs of white, plastic handcuffs attached to their legs, meaning they were clearly prepared to make mass arrests of the protesters, if necessary. Berman called it outrageous and said it was just another example of the city’s showing special treatment to Trump.

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