Volume 78 - Number 36 / February 4 - 10 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
The High Line factor
The Romanoff familys proposal for a 12-story, glass-facade office building in the Meat Market raises many issues. But the most important is whether this project qualifies for variances based on financial hardship, as the Romanoffs claim.
The site is located right next to the High Line, the southern section of which is poised to open this year, and which is sure to bring even more people and activity to the Meat Market and West Chelsea. Even while still under construction, the High Line park has been generating phenomenal excitement, as one of the truly unique, forward-thinking parks of our era.
Its no secret the High Line has sparked a rush of high-rise development in Chelsea. In the Meat Market, two glitzy new projects the Standard Hotel and the High Line Building straddle the old rail viaduct.
Both the Standard and the High Line Building were built within the Meat Markets zoning of 5 F.A.R. (floor area ratio). Andre Balazs, the Standards developer, had to build his project on giant stilts to span the High Line; yet he didnt cry hardship to try to get a variance for extra square footage. Similarly, Charles Blaichman, the High Line Buildings developer, probably could have made a case that adding an office tower atop an old Meat Market building posed economic hardship. Yet he didnt seek more F.A.R.
If the Romanoffs get their sought-after variance of 55 percent more F.A.R. basically, a 55 percent larger building they would build a dozen stories, about the same height as the High Line Building, though shorter than Balazss hotel-on-a-trestle.
Basically, we dont think the Romanoffs have a case for hardship. True, they cant build on one edge of their property because the High Line passes over it, but they dont lose buildable square feet because of this. That they want to put the elevator banks on the buildings northern wall doesnt strike us as a particular hardship.
Also, while were glad the Romanoffs dont want a Times Square-style retail tenant in the buildings base, a variance should not be granted to allow a 30,000-square-foot store. The project should adhere to the areas zoning, which allows retail stores of up to 10,000 square feet.
On the other hand, the buildings design is impressive on several points. The Washington St. setback is very good; this setback both opens up sightlines along Washington St. and orients the buildings top with the High Line, serving to visually announce the High Lines presence.
The debate over glass towers in the Village, rages on. One might argue that, in some cases, a well-designed glass building could complement rather than destroy the neighborhood fabric. James Carpenter, this projects architect, is a foremost expert on glass-wall construction.
However, this project should not get the variances the developers seek. Ultimately, the High Line will add has already added huge value to its surroundings.
Any hardships the Romanoffs might conceivably face with this building will be far outweighed by the High Lines positive effects.