Volume 73, Number 47 | March 24 -30, 2004

Hudson building gets the shaft

By Lincoln Anderson

Residents and new businesses in a converted manufacturing loft building at Gansevoort and Hudson Sts. are getting the shaft.

At least that’s how it looks now.

After two previous proposed sites in the Meat Market for drilling a water shaft down to the new backup city water tunnel were nixed, the Department of Environmental Protection has picked a new site, Gansevoort St. between Hudson and W. Fourth Sts. The spot is in the street between the north side of Cpl. John A. Seravalli Playground and the south side of the loft building, 652 Hudson St.

The proposal was unveiled at Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee on March 9. Work would likely start in 2006 and take at least two and a half years, according to D.E.P. The proposed work site and staging area is 250 ft. long, covering most of the street. One lane would be left open for traffic. A tall concrete wall would partially surround the site.

The new plan is supported as the best option by some local residents and also by Save Gansevoort Market, the group that last year won historic district designation for the Meat Market.

But Neil Joffee, who purchased the six-story, former industrial building in the mid-1970s and converted it into 12 co-op apartments, is outraged over the proposal and plans to fight it.

“This is something that for four or five years [D.E.P.] didn’t act on,” Joffee said. “Now they come in as if this is a slam dunk. We’ve got a 114-year-old, unreinforced masonry structure here. We’re really concerned about the structural integrity of our structure and people’s houses.”

He said they have retained a structural engineer to study the potential impact on the building.

Joffee, the co-op board’s president, also owns the adjacent one-story triangular building where Boss Models is the tenant.

For the last three years as the Meat Market has transformed into an upscale shopping district, he said he worked to find tenants for the building’s commercial spaces. Joffee opted against bars or restaurants, noting they might bother the co-op owners, instead choosing “dry uses,” specifically apparel, the Meat Market’s primary new business. Calypso and Catherine Malandrino, upscale women’s fashion stores, are slated to open soon; Yoyamart, already doing business selling baby wear and products, is located right by the planned drill site.

“The retailers we’ve gotten will be wiped out of existence by this thing,” Joffee said. “Yoyamart — he’s finished. Can you imagine women with baby carriages going anywhere near this site?”

Garrett Yebernetsky, a 652 Hudson St. resident, said, “They say it’s going to be noninvasive and you’re not going to hear it. But come on — drilling through 400 ft. of bedrock, it’s going to affect something.”

Yebernetsky, who attended the March 9 presentation, said there will be a stream of trucks hauling away debris and a 60-ft. crane hoisting 40-ft. pipe segments into the hole for the drilling.

Five years ago, D.E.P. first proposed siting the shaft on an open-air parking lot on Ninth Ave. between 13th and Little W. 12th Sts. Since access would need to be maintained to the shaft once built, precluding a new building, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation proposed a park be built on top afterwards. But the site was leased to developers to build the Hotel Gansevoort, which opens April 1. D.E.P. then shifted the shaft site onto the east side of Ninth Ave., in front of the hotel, then abandoned the site.

Charles Sturcken, a D.E.P. spokesperson, said, “We don’t want to hurt new businesses. The hotel made a good argument” for how the project would hurt its business.

Asked about the impact on new businesses like Yoyamart at the new site off Hudson St., Sturcken said, “We’ll work to mitigate any issues that they may have.” He added the original parking lot site was too large anyway, that only 7,000 sq. ft. was needed for the shaft.

D.E.P. more recently eyed what’s been dubbed Gansevoort Plaza, the five-way intersection of Ninth Ave., Greenwich, Gansevoort and Little W. 12th Sts., a hub of the Meat Market’s new restaurant and nightlife scene. For the project to work at this busy intersection, D.E.P. hoped to buy the Woolco restaurant food supply building at 36 Gansevoort St., the interior of which and some of the sidewalk would have been the shaft drilling site. But the property’s value rose to $20 million — too high for D.E.P. — and it was sold to a developer who will build a five-story commercial office building with ground-floor retail space.

Sturcken said it was no longer worth it to buy the site, and that such costly purchases only lead to D.E.P. having to raise water rates.

“We’re going to [dig] in the street where we can,” Sturcken said. “We don’t want to acquire property where we don’t have to.”

Florent Morellet, owner of Florent restaurant on Gansevoort St. and co-chairperson of Save Gansevoort Market, feels the latest proposal — which is in the Greenwich Village Historic District — is the best option left.

“They should have secured the parking lot in the first place,” he said. “It obviously wasn’t good to have [the shaft] in front of the hotel. They would have had a lawsuit on their hands.

“They were moving too late,” he said similarly of D.E.P.’s failure to buy the Woolco building while still affordable.

Although some suspect shady power plays behind the shaft’s being moved out of the trendy Meat Market, it was pure economics, Morellet said.

Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P.’s director, also wishes the shaft had been built at the original site, since it would have blocked construction of the 13-story hotel. It was under the Giuliani administration that the shaft was shifted onto Ninth Ave.

“Certainly, all of us would have liked to have seen it happen on the parking lot,” Berman said. “I think it left a bad taste in people’s mouth — that the city had changed this and not notified the community.”

Jo Hamilton, co-chairperson of Save Gansevoort Market, also thinks the new site is best.

“It still has an impact on the community, but it will be a minimal impact,” she said, adding it wasn’t she who initially suggested the latest idea. Hamilton praised D.E.P. for listening to the community and searching for the best available site.

Brad Hoylman, chairperson of C.B. 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, said no final decision on the site has been made by D.E.P., which is awaiting C.B. 2’s recommendation. He said a good number of residents at the March 9 meeting supported the spot off Hudson St., and that other residents also sent letters backing the site.

“This site isn’t ideal, but it appears to be better than the Gansevoort Plaza proposal,” Hoylman said. “It’s the ultimate NIMBY, but it’s a project that has to go forward,” he added, using the acronym for “not in my backyard.”

According to Hoylman, when D.E.P. acquires private property for a shaft, the space is typically left open and developed as a park or playground, at a cost of $2 million. Accordingly, he expects a $2 million “mitigation package” from D.E.P. that could include money for the refurbishing of the playground, offsetting damages to businesses, soundproofing, safety measures and installing new Belgian blocks in the area. (D.E.P. plans to repair the cobblestones on the street after the project is done, he said.) He said ideas for the mitigation money will be discussed at next month’s committee meeting.

“D.E.P. seems more willing than the M.T.A. to make one of these big digs safer — and return something to the community,” Hoylman said, contrasting the water shaft project with the burdensome subway ventilation work at 13th St. and Sixth Ave.

Told of the figure Hoylman cited, however, D.E.P. spokesperson Sturcken said it was news to him.

“Tell me where he got it. I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Sturcken said, adding, “We may look at doing something in the playground.”

Another water shaft is slated for a parking lot at Leroy and Hudson Sts. Several years ago, youth sports advocates and Councilmember Chris Quinn pushed for a commitment from D.E.P. to allow a playground to be built on this lot after drilling is complete. Sturcken confirmed D.E.P. acquired the lot a while ago and that it will be left as open space, though he said his agency doesn’t determine if it will be a playground. Work will start on this shaft in 2006.

As if to say water shafts aren’t so bad, Sturcken noted they have been built in the city since the early 1900s, and in the 1970s were built up and down the West Side. But they have plenty of opposition nowadays, not only in the Village. On March 18, Upper East Side residents, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Jonathan Bing rallied on City Hall’s steps against a water shaft planned in the road at 54th St. and Second Ave., charging it would tie up traffic on the narrow street.

Joffee, the Hudson St. commercial co-op owner, plans action too.

“We’re not going to wait. We’re hiring an attorney,” he said. “We’re going to exhaust every resource possible to stop this from happening.”


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