Volume 78 / Number 17 - September 24 - 30, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower
East Side, Since 1933

Is Trump Soho higher, or maybe just SoHi?

By Lincoln Anderson

Trump Soho hotel-condo watchdogs are up in arms crying that Donald Trump has trumped them yet again.

Community Board 2 recently was notified that, unbeknownst to them, the developer and his partners filed to add an additional floor to the embattled project at Spring and Varick Sts., and that the Department of Buildings approved the application to make the behemoth building even bigger.

In a Sept. 12 statement, Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, said: “The community board is outraged to have learned that the Buildings Department has unilaterally decided to give the Soho Trump Condominium-Hotel at 246 Spring St. an additional floor, making the project 43, instead of 42, stories high.

“It’s unfortunate that D.O.B. would reward the developer an extra floor for this extremely flawed project, which is already a blight on the neighborhood,” Hoylman said. “The Buildings Department should be penalizing them for their string of safety violations, not gifting them with more floor space.”

Hoylman said that C.B. 2 being left in the dark as the developer planned to add an extra floor was “particularly troubling.” The board has worked hard with D.O.B. to increase communication between Trump and partners and the neighborhood, he said.

After a worker was killed in a disastrous collapse atop the Trump project in mid-January of this year, C.B. 2 began holding monthly meetings, still ongoing, with Bovis Lend Lease, the construction company putting up the building. Despite the meetings, the change in plans was never raised to board members.

A Department of Buildings forensic investigation into the cause of the fatal construction accident still has not been completed. However, last month, a stop-work order for the building’s top half — in effect during the eight months after the incident — was lifted.

Kate Lindquist, a Buildings spokesperson, said there was nothing illegal about Trump and his associates adding the extra floor.

“The initial permit application called for a 42-story building with floor area remaining, meaning they did not maximize the floor area,” Lindquist said. “They recently amended their permit application to maximize the allowable floor area — and it was approved in August.

“In terms of why they chose not to keep the community notified about the project, you have to ask them,” Lindquist added, referring to the meetings between C.B. 2 and Bovis Lend Lease. “It’s our understanding that the developer had intended to keep the community notified about progress at the site.”

However, Lindquist noted, it’s not a Building Code requirement that the developers of the Trump Soho — which is being built as of right, meaning without any special permits or rezoning — keep the community posted on changes to the plan.

Last week, Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, warned that Trump and Co. may be planning to go even further than was initially thought — possibly adding still another story. Berman said that a review by G.V.S.H.P. of D.O.B. records shows that the developer recently submitted permit applications referring to a 44th floor.

“G.V.S.H.P. has written to D.O.B. to express outrage over the approval of the 43rd floor, and to question the new reference to a ‘44th floor,’” Berman said in a statement. “We have urged D.O.B. not to approve any additional height for the building, and to rescind the existing approvals. We have also filed a Freedom of Information Law request to review all of D.O.B.’s relevant files for the project, to uncover and refute the department’s justification for approving these permits in the first place.”

Berman noted that the society continues to work closely with the Soho Alliance, which has a lawsuit in State Supreme Court against the city’s original approval of the project. Calling the condo-hotel “Trump’s Trojan horse,” the alliance and others charge it will be used as a ritzy residence, rather than a hotel; while the location’s manufacturing zoning allows a hotel, residential use is prohibited.

C.B. 2 Chairperson Hoylman and D.O.B. spokesperson Lindquist both denied a second new floor is being added, and said Berman is mistakenly referring to the condo-hotel’s roof, not a literal 44th floor.

Indeed, Julius Schwarz, head of Bayrock Group, one of Trump’s partners in the project, said the so-called new 44th floor is merely a roof that covers the so-called new 43rd floor, which is a 3,000-square-foot event space that is being added to an area covering one-third of the rooftop.

The rest of the rooftop has mechanical systems, and the new event space won’t be significantly higher than the mechanicals, he said. Schwarz said he really wanted to save this for a press release, but that the roof spot will be called SoHi.

“We thought it was cute,” he said of the name. “It will be an amenity for the building.” He added that the condo-hotel’s watchdogs are really off base this time and are “making a fuss over something that’s minimal.”

As for why Bovis Lend Lease representatives never told C.B. 2 about SoHi and all the rest, Schwarz said it was his understanding that these meetings were set up specifically to monitor the project’s “safety and security,” not its general progress.

Schwarz added that, in an economic climate that has seen many construction projects stalled, the “condotel” will bring increased economic vitality to the area, plus 600 jobs.

“We’re not the enemy; we’re helping the community,” he stressed.

Though the accident set the project back nine months, Trump Soho could open as early as next June, he said.

Told about SoHi on Tuesday evening, Hoylman said, “The community board looks forward to reviewing that liquor license application — you can quote me on that.”

Last Thursday, C.B. 2 members, local elected officials and community advocates met with five City Planning Department members to start discussions on rezoning the M1-6 manufacturing area around the Trump Soho site so that such colossal towers will be avoided in the future. The parley was promised by Council Speaker Christine Quinn after the Council approved a residential rezoning in July for developer Peter Moore’s project on a formerly manufacturing-zoned site at Greenwich and Morton Sts.

“Part of the goal is to advocate for height restrictions — so we don’t have another Trump hotel,” explained Hoylman. “Also to advocate for schools, sewers and waste runoff — infrastructure — as well as to maintain the character of that neighborhood. Last Thursday’s meeting was a necessary first step in laying the groundwork for the discussion.”

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