Volume 73, Number 6 | June 9 - 15, 2004



High-rises, and rumors of them, in Ludlow St. area

By Tien-Shun Lee

Villager photos by Tien-Shun Lee

The new Surface Hotel on Rivington St., near Ludlow St., is slated to open within five months.

The owner of Luna Lounge, a Lower East Side rock venue and comedy club, dispelled rumors last week that a 17-story building would be built at the site of the club, making 171 Ludlow St. the location of the second high-rise in the area.

The first high-rise in the neighborhood is the Surface Hotel — a 20-story glass-paneled hotel located at 105 Rivington St. The hotel, built by local developer and property owner Paul Stallings, is slated to open within five months.

“We’re currently negotiating with the new owners of the building about what the situation will be when our lease ends next year,” said Robert Sacher, the owner of Luna Lounge. “We just met with the new owners of the building, and they are planning on putting just an apartment building there. It’s going to be just the standard five to six stories.”

Located on Ludlow St. between Houston and Stanton Sts., Luna Lounge and its neighboring businesses, Vo and Vitality, are currently housed in one-story buildings. The buildings are low compared to the neighboring six-story buildings.

Ngoc Vo, the owner of the clothing boutique Vo, said the Lower East Side neighborhood has become more commercial since she opened her store four years ago, and it would not surprise her if the area continued to change.

“I remember hearing that the owner of this building wants to build a hotel. If he owns it, he can build it,” said Vo. “What I don’t like is the construction. That’s going to be a madhouse. It’s very dusty, very yucky.”

According to Ilyse Fink, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Buildings, the height of a building is governed by the floor area ratio — a calculation based on the building’s footprint and setbacks, among other criteria.

“It may be that six stories is the max for the floor ratio,” said Fink. “Or it may be that they didn’t build higher because they didn’t want to put in elevators.”

Stallings could not be reached for comment.

Simon Fouladian, the design engineer and architect for the Surface Hotel, said the hotel was able to reach 20 stories in height because the developer acquired air rights from four to five neighboring lots.

Air rights are building rights that are bought from adjoining buildings, Fouladian explained.

For example, if a building can be built up to six stories according to the governing zoning laws, but it has only been built up to one story, then a developer can buy air rights from the one-story building, allowing the developer to build higher. Ultimately, the building plans need only to be approved by the city’s Department of Buildings.

“Everything we completed was as of right and complied with the zoning requirement,” said Fouladian, regarding the Surface Hotel. “It doesn’t need to go before the Board of Standards and Appeals or to get approval of the community board. This project is completely financed by private funding.”

Fouladian said the nearly completed hotel is already a focal point for the area — it can be seen from Avenue A, and it is attracting attention to the area.

“In my opinion [a new high-rise] is not going to change the density of the area. The building may be taller and narrower,” said Fouladian. “It’s not going to block the light coming to adjoining buildings. Maybe on one block you’re going to see a high-rise. It’s not going to be like Midtown Manhattan.”

Another planned 23-story high-rise proposed for a site at the corner of Houston and Ludlow Sts. has been stalled for two years by court cases. The developer initially got a b.s.a. variance to construct a larger building than zoning allowed, but a community lawsuit succeeded in reversing the decision.

According to Susan Howard, a community activist who has lived on the Lower East Side for 20 years, Edison, the developers of that site, which is currently occupied by an open-air parking lot, are awaiting approval from the New York City Transit Authority to build on top of a subway.

“I really think that the developers are just profiteering from the success of this very diverse community, and in their profiteering, they’re destroying the character of the community,” said Howard. “How are we going to afford to continue to live here? We’re going to have to find another poor community to move to. We can’t shop at organic food stores — they’re too expensive. You can’t go in and buy a can of tuna fish for 69 cents anymore. Now it’s wealthy, white affluent singles and couples, and that’s what people are interested in servicing and interested in renting to.”

In addition, Howard said she fears that the Surface Hotel will ultimately function as high-rent condominiums rather than as a hotel, and that the new hotel may drive up the rents of neighboring buildings.

But Fouladian said the Surface Hotel will be a true hotel. Only two or three penthouse suites will have stoves and kitchenettes. The rest of the hotel’s suites will only be equipped with small refrigerators. All suites will be carpeted from wall to wall.

Marco Megira, the owner of EarthMatters organic food market at 177 Ludlow St., said that he had seen the owner of 171 Ludlow St. carrying floor plans and walking around with his architect, but he is unclear about what the landlord’s plans were.

“He came to me one time with a map and an architect,” said Megira. “He said he’s going to start from Orchard St. and work his way [through the block] towards Ludlow.”

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