Volume 73, Number 50 | April 21 - 27, 2004

City reverses its ruling on Market tower

By Albert Amateau

Advocates who want to preserve the Far West Village were jubilant this week when the Department of Buildings reversed a January 2003 ruling that would have allowed a tower, half hotel and half residential apartments, to rise in the manufacturing area west of the Gansevoort Market Historic District.

The original ruling outraged preservationists, who said the city was allowing an end run around zoning that permits hotels but prohibits permanent residential uses in manufacturing areas like at 848 Washington St., where the developer Stephen Touhey proposes a 32-story hotel tower designed by Jean Nouvel, the noted French architect.

But in an April 19 letter to the developer’s attorney, the department said, “After further review we have concluded that this interpretation violates the zoning regulations,” adding that the latest ruling “is final and supersedes the prior one.” Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said he was delighted with the Department of Buildings action.

“We’ve been waging a campaign day and night to get the city to reverse the ruling,” he said. “It seems as if wiser heads in the administration have intervened in the case, but the efforts of our elected officials and the thousands of letters and postcards from our supporters have helped turn the tide. It proves you can fight City Hall,” Berman added.

Florent Morellet, a founder of the Save the Gansevoort Market District who owns a restaurant on Gansevoort St., said the reversal was great news for a lively and exciting neighborhood made possible by the mix of meat-packers, restaurants and nightlife. “If you start putting housing in a neighborhood like this you immediately start conflicts and you’re going to stifle the energy and excitement,” he said.

Touhey said yesterday that he would consider different uses and a different design for the property that straddles the southern end of the High Line, the derelict railroad viaduct that the city plans to convert into an elevated park and whose other end is at W. 34th St. by the Javits Convention Center.

“We’ve been looking at a number of different concepts,” Touhey said. “We’re taking very seriously the community’s concerns and the old plan has been off the table for the past four months. The original Nouvel design may change,” he added.

Opponents of the project were also outraged at the height of the slender 32-story proposal in a neighborhood dominated by five- and six-story buildings. But the tower as currently designed could be built without special permits under current manufacturing zoning.

The Department of Building’s letter suggested that the developer can appeal the department ruling to the Board of Standards and Appeals; but Touhey’s statement indicates that probably would not happen.

Touhey originally proposed the project as an apartment tower and applied for a zoning variance from the B.S.A. He withdrew the application last year when it appeared unlikely that the B.S.A. would grant the variance. Touhey then proposed the hotel use to conform to zoning — with a request for a ruling on whether 49 percent of the units could be set aside for “long-term occupancy.”

In October of last year, Berman, joined by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, City Councilmember Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, along with members of the meat-packers union, urged Mayor Bloomberg to stop the Department of Buildings from issuing a permit for the project he called a “Trojan horse.”

Activists were also concerned that the initial ruling would encourage residential development in the Far West Village, where development is already at a fever pitch.

“This reversal is great, not only for 848 Washington St., but for manufacturing districts throughout the city, including spots in the Far West Village,” said Berman.

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