Volume 79, Number 02 | June 17 - 23, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

New D.O.B. rule extended

The Department of Buildings’ new plan for the length of the public review process regarding building-permit applications has been extended to 45 days after the city agency initially proposed a 30-day challenge period.

The new regulations will take effect on July 13, and “the reforms will give New Yorkers a stronger voice in the development of neighborhoods, create greater transparency, and clarify the process for the public and for developers,” D.O.B. Commissioner Robert LiMandri said in a statement.

Under the new initiative, architects and engineers will be required to submit a diagram of any new proposed building or major enlargement for the public to view the development’s size and scale before construction can proceed. After D.O.B. determines that the application complies with zoning regulations, the diagrams will be posted online for a 45-day review period. The current process has no formal time frame.

“New Yorkers have a right to know what’s being built in their neighborhood, and now they can easily find out by visiting our Web site,” LiMandri said in the statement. “This new, easy-to-read diagram opens the doors to the construction process like never before and will give more certainty to the community and developers on the future of any project in the city.”

However, some who were critical of the original proposal still doubt the process will prove effective.

“The bad news…is that D.O.B. did not address the myriad other issues we (and many others) raised about how the rule could actually shield inappropriate developments from challenge rather than help ensure that they are caught, as D.O.B. claims the rule change will do,” Andrew Berman, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation executive director, said in an e-mail. “We fear that in many more cases, this may force members of the public to file a [Board of Standards and Appeals] case if they want to challenge the granting of a permit, as opposed to being able to bring it to D.O.B.”

Berman questioned the new rule’s effectiveness, explaining that B.S.A. cases are expensive and time consuming, and often not settled until after buildings are largely or entirely constructed.

Also on the offensive was Queens Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tony Avella, who denounced the plan as “shameful.”

“While Mayor Mike Bloomberg and D.O.B. Commissioner LiMandri are claiming that this will empower the public with greater oversight over new developments, they could not be further from the truth,” Avella said. “The implementation of any comment period, whether it is 30 or 45 days, will actually diminish the ability of residents to contest new construction by creating a de-facto statute of limitations to challenge a new development. In effect, this procedure will only benefit unscrupulous developers who will simply wait out the clock to avoid community challenges. As a result, I demand D.O.B. scrap this plan!” 

Getting down to BID’ness

The recently minted Hudson Square Business Improvement District will get to work out of its new offices on Varick St. starting July 1.

The BID — which will serve the area roughly bounded by Houston St. to the north, Canal St. to the south, Sixth Ave. to the east and Greenwich St. to the west — is being headed by new president Ellen Baer.

The improvement district’s offices, at 180 Varick St. near the corner of Charlton St., sit across the street from radio station WNYC’s new headquarters.

The BID will focus on marketing the neighborhood and quality-of-life issues, but will not handle other traditional improvement district duties, such as street cleaning and security. The district’s $1.7 million budget comes from property owners, who pay a fee of about 19 cents per square foot.

“As Hudson Square emerges as the new home for next-generation creative companies, the BID’s goal is to channel the innovation occurring in every building into the public realm,” Baer said.

The BID’s board of directors is comprised of property owners, commercial tenants, an area resident and local elected officials, and is chaired by WNYC President and C.E.O. Laura Walker.

Tobi Bergman, a Hudson Square resident and Community Board 2’s nonvoting representative to the BID, said easing neighborhood traffic will be one of the organization’s main concerns moving forward. The former Printing District’s retail viability and beautifying the streetscape also remain central goals, he said. Bergman did have one gripe, though.

“I wish they would have come up with a better name than Hudson Square,” he lamented of the oft-debated topic of the neighborhood’s name. “It sounds like a shopping mall.”

High honor for high line

Adding to its seemingly endless stream of plaudits, the High Line recently received one of the Society of American Registered Architects’ top honors for innovative design.

As part of the 14th Annual Professional Design Awards, S.A.R.A.’s New York Council presented its Medallion of Honor Award to Friends of the High Line for the nonprofit group’s work on the elevated railway-turned-park.

“Not only did they succeed in preserving an historic structure; they have created a new public ‘park in the sky,’ which has spurred the rezoning of West Chelsea, precipitating its transformation from a barren industrial wayside to a verdant, vibrant and popular cultural, commercial and residential area,” the announcement stated.


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