Volume 78 - Number 23 / NOVEMBER 5 - 11, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Daniella Carelli , Rendering Courtesy AvalonBay Commuties Inc.

Left: Extra Place as it now appears, with its eastern side, at right, lined with storefronts developed by AvalonBay. Right: A rendering of how Extra Place could appear as envisioned by developer AvalonBay.

Board asks H.P.D. to take extra look at Extra Place

By Daniella Carelli

Neil Cardi was walking down E. First St. between Second Ave. and the Bowery, when he stopped. He was wearing a worn-out rocker T-shirt and black skeleton biker gloves, complete with trench coat slung over his shoulders. Standing by the small, cul de sac in midblock, he sneaked a smirk at the grimy, graffiti-covered walls and scraps of trash that decorated the obscure alley.

“This place gives me comfort,” said Cardi, a former amateur musician who has struggled with substance abuse. “I remember spending a night or two here as the Rolling Stones rolled out the back of that door. It used to be CBGB.”

The unmarked place Cardi stood in front of is a deserted street known as Extra Place and some say that since the 1970s this historic alleyway has given character to the Lower East Side.

But character is not what attracted developer AvalonBay to propose its new ideas to beautify the street. Recently, AvalonBay built two hulking condominiums on this block, and Extra Place will allow the developer to expand its ownership. Both buildings are largely market-rate rentals, but 20 percent of their apartments are affordable.

In 1993, the street was demapped, transferring ownership from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Now, H.P.D is looking to sell the street to prospective developers, and with AvalonBay’s two new complexes spanning the spaces adjacent to Extra Place, H.P.D. apparently has found the perfect buyer. At the September meeting of Community Board 3’s Economic Development, Zoning and Planning Committee, representatives from AvalonBay, H.P.D. and D.O.T. began discussion on what the future holds for Extra Place.

Representing AvalonBay, Maria Masi, display boards in hand, sought the community board’s support for the developer’s takeover bid. She noted it would benefit the city not to have fiscal and legal responsibility for the small street. A pedestrian mall with cobblestones, benches, trees and a sidewalk cafe for a pastry shop were sketched out to show board members and the audience what the site would look like.

Rob Hollander, an East Villager and watchdog on local development and zoning issues, said his biggest concern was AvalonBay itself.

In a subsequent interview, Hollander said among the issues he raised at the meeting were the fact that: “Avalon is the neighborhood there now. It is completely unlike the rest of the neighborhood,” he said. “Avalon represents the weirdest enclave of wealth and super-sanitization. We will lose history and lose the street, which will become a backyard for Avalon.”

The committee decided to table the issue till its November meeting. The board members told H.P.D. that, in the meantime, its “homework assignment” was to propose alternative buyers for Extra Place other than AvalonBay, as well as alternative uses for the site.

Speaking last month, Masi told a reporter she could not discuss the topic further until the November committee meeting, when she would present recommendations for public use of the property.

Hollander said he wants to see alternatives that sustain the history of Extra Place.

“Get Avalon to understand that this is part of the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “Keeping this street public is essential to the nostalgia of the Lower East Side.”

AvalonBay’s advertisements that run along the walls between the Bowery and Second Ave. read, “The Redefined Bowery.” And redefining is exactly what residents of 11 E. 1st St. and 22 E. First St., together known as Avalon Bowery Place condominiums, want for Extra Place.

“Clean it up!” and “It’s pretty ugly” were the reactions of people coming out of both buildings as they walked from pressure-washed sidewalks surrounding the new buildings to aged, gum-covered splats of cement. Jennifer, a resident of two months who declined to give her last name, said of the attraction of fixing up Extra Place with cafes: “The less I have to travel for nightlife the better.”

So is Extra Place nothing more than an alley that needs a sprucing up or is it one of the last remnants of old New York? The vote is split.

But while the “Avalon community” eagerly awaits change, people like Hollander vote to keep this quirky street and its historic appeal alive in the neighborhood.

“It is a street that make even garbage look beautiful,” Hollander asserted.

“It’s kind of famous as the back door of CBGB’s. It’s the backdrop of The Ramones’ ‘Rocket to Russia’ album,” said Fred Harris, senior vice president of AvalonBay, of Extra Place. He said it’s unclear if the parcel is even an officially mapped city street, but, “Regardless of its status, or whether or we own it or not, we just want to clean it up, light it and maintain it and pedestrianize it.”

Harris said the city, at one point, was going to do an appraisal of the property’s value. But since the parcel has no development rights, he expected any purchase price likely would be nominal.

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