Volume 73, Number 46 | March 17 -23, 2004

300 organize against ove-development

By Albert Amateau

A map showing potential “soft” development sites in the Far West Village and on the waterfront outside the Greenwich Village Historic District.
About 300 preservation-minded West Village residents rallied last week to map out a strategy to fight what they deem to be overdevelopment of the Far West Village. Citing recent high-rise residential projects in the picturesque low-rise area west of Washington and Greenwich Sts. from 13th to Leroy Sts., Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, warned that time was running out for preserving the neighborhood.

“If we don’t do it now, there won’t be anything to preserve,” Berman told the March 10 standing-room-only town hall meeting sponsored by Community Board 2, G.V.S.H.P., the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port and the Greenwich Village Community Task Force.

Among the developments cited as threatening the historic fabric of the neighborhood were the sprawling 17-story residential Morton Sq. project, nearing completion between Washington and West Sts.; the third Richard Meier glass residential tower planned for West and Charles Sts.; The Related Companies’ acquisition of the four-story Superior Ink plant on West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts. for a “significant residential development,” and plans for a 32-story building designed by Jean Nouvel, half hotel and half apartments, in the manufacturing zone at 848 Washington St.

Berman urged neighbors to organize in favor of zoning and landmarking controls to decrease the pace and scale of residential development, which has been fueled by the attraction of the Hudson River Park, whose Village segment was completed last summer.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick urged Villagers to use the city’s one-stop 311-telephone complaint number. “Ask the mayor ‘What are you doing to preserve our neighborhood?’ He goes to Staten Island and Queens seven times a month. Ask him to come to a town hall meeting in the West Village,” said Glick.

Villager photo by Christopher Lanning

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, takes a question at the overdevelopment forum.

“Landmarking is our top priority for the Far West Village,” said Berman. He recalled recently urging Robert Tierney, chairperson of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, to support a West Village historic district designation. “He was noncommittal,” Berman added.

Preservation groups plan a mass demonstration in favor of a historic district on the afternoon of Sun., April 18. “We don’t know yet where it will be, but we hope to get 300 people like we have at this meeting,” said Berman. “The Gansevoort Market Historic District took us three years, but here I don’t think we have three years,” he added.

In addition to landmarking, zoning changes for the West Village are also a priority. “The Far West Village has a total lack of protection,” said Berman. “Developers see us as an exploitable resource rather than a neighborhood. A lot of [developers] want our neighborhood turned into a sea of glass high-rises towering over historic streets like Charles Lane,” he said, referring to the two 16-story glass residential towers designed by Richard Meier completed last year on West and Perry Sts. and a third one planned just to the south.

Indeed the mention of the Meier towers, the first two of which were developed by Richard Born, brought hisses from the crowd last week. To the outrage of many Villagers, the two existing towers overlooking the Hudson River were built as-of-right under existing zoning. The third tower, being developed by Izak Senbahar and Simon Elias, is also as-of-right.

“Wherever there’s to be new development, it should be contextual with our neighborhood,” said Berman.

A Department of Buildings opinion issued last October in connection with a proposal by developer Stephen Touhey to build a 32-story combination hotel and residential tower designed by Jean Nouvel in a manufacturing zone at 848 Washington St. in the Meat Market, came in for special criticism.

Hotels may be built as-of-right in manufacturing zones, but Touhey originally planned the tall, slender Nouvel-designed tower as a residential building and sought a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals. When the B.S.A. denied the variance, Touhey changed his application to Buildings to as-of-right hotel use. But he also declared that a hotel building with less than 49 percent of its units set aside for “long-term occupancy” was also allowed in a manufacturing zone, and the department agreed.

When preservationists learned about the agreement in October, they mounted a campaign to overturn the ruling. The Buildings Department reaffirmed its opinion at that time but noted that the building permit had not yet been issued and that the matter was under study.

“We’ve got to get that opinion overturned,” said Berman, asserting that it could compromise the integrity of every manufacturing zone, and further jeopardize the Far West Village and waterfront by making development easier. “We are prepared to file a lawsuit if anyone tries to build under the ruling, but we don’t have a cause until Buildings issues a permit,” said Berman. “We have to convince the city to overturn the ruling before a permit is issued.”

Ken Silver, a resident of Jane St. in the Village who identified himself as a developer, said, “It’s an outrage to allow residential development under the guise of a hotel to be built in a manufacturing zone.” The Department of Buildings opinion was “completely ridiculous,” said Silver. “Developers don’t want to build another hotel, there are enough hotel rooms in the city now.”

There has been a spate of new hotel openings in the area. The Gansevoort Hotel, a 13-story hotel with 187 rooms on 13th St. between Ninth Ave. and Hudson St., had a gala opening on Fri., March 12, for an art show, and will officially open April 1. On Ninth Ave, between 16th and 17th Sts., Richard Born last year created a 125-room hotel in the building with porthole windows built by the National Maritime Union in 1966.

In the former Hanover Moving and Storage building on Ninth Ave at 13th St., a British group has developed Soho House, a boutique hotel and private-membership club.

City Councilmember Christine Quinn pledged to advocate against Touhey’s half-hotel proposal at 848 Washington St. “The amendment we got to the Hudson Sq. rezoning will be our model for protecting manufacturing zones,” Quinn said.

Quinn was successful last August in getting the City Council to remove the manufacturing zone bounded by Morton and Barrow Sts., Hudson, Clarkson and West Sts. from the Hudson Sq. rezoning that allowed residential development to the south. Residents felt their best hope to prevent gentrification and development in the area around the West Village Houses was to keep Hudson Sq.’s north manufacturing zone intact.


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