By Sabina Mollot
The developer of a planned residential building at the site of the old Peter Stuyvesant Post Office is still hoping to add an additional four stories to what was originally supposed to be an eight-story structure.
Benenson Capital Partners, whose request for a required zoning variance to do this was shot down in July by a committee of Community Board 3, will next be heading to the Board of Standards and Appeals.
While the community board’s unanimous vote in opposition to the variance was just advisory, a decision made by the BSA would be official.
The developer had previously argued that an additional few floors was necessary to make the project economically viable, due to costs related to underground water conditions at the site.
However, a few community groups had opposed the plan, with one of the arguments being that a water condition is hardly unusual. One of those groups, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, plans to go to the BSA hearing on January 24 and testify. The group has also said previously that raising the height of the building to reach 12 stories would make it out of context with the neighborhood.
An organization spokesperson, Andrew Berman, told Town & Village, “Our objection is based on the scale but also on the principle. They’re asking for a more than 25 percent increase in floor area and a more than 50 percent height increase. Their basis (for argument) is groundwater, which is applicable to countless sites in Manhattan.”
Berman added, “So if they deserve a variance then everyone else does as well. You’re only supposed to (get a variance) if you have a hardship that’s unique.”
He noted that at the community board level, the owner had argued for more height by pointing out that Stuyvesant Town is just across the street from the lot at 432 East 14th Street.
But, Berman blasted that logic as well. “Everyone in New York knows Stuyvesant Town is a unique creation unto itself,” he said. “The East Village is a very different neighborhood. If it was eight stories as originally proposed as of right, we would not oppose it.”
If the BSA does approve Benenson’s request, opponents of the project would still have the option of appealing it by filing an Article 78, but, Berman said, “It’s expensive and we’re hoping it won’t come to that.”
The hearing is open to the public and will take place on Tuesday, January 24 at 10 a.m. at 22 Reade Street, Spector Hall at the BSA Hearing Room.
The East 14th Street property was used as a Post Office from 1953 to 2014, when the United States Postal Service opted for a smaller space nearby. In 2015, Benenson, along with partner Mack Real Estate Group, announced a plan for a 114-unit building with ground floor retail.
Asked for comment on the hearing, a spokesperson for the owner said, via email, that the partners were looking forward to it.
“We have been a part of the Lower East Side community for decades,” the statement read. “Very early in this BSA process, we met extensively with the community, heard their issues and in some instances made changes based on their comments and recommendations. We look forward to the BSA hearing and the opportunity to be heard on the merits of our application and remaining a part of this community for many decades to come.”
In an economic analysis report, filed by “East 14th Street Owners LLC” last October that’s available on GVSHP’s website, the owner specifically proposes two buildings, one eight stories on the East 13th Street side and one 12 stories on the East 14th Street side. Together, they’d include 43 studio apartments, 82 one-bedrooms and 30 two-bedrooms for a total of 155 units. Out of those, 31 (20 percent) would be designated “affordable,” rented at 60 percent of the area median income, under the 421a tax abatement program.
The report also notes that groundwater levels encountered were “higher than normally encountered in this part of Manhattan.” A likely explanation, it went on, was that the site is located at the southern edge of an old streambed and the result is that “around the clock” dewatering during construction of the foundation is required. The problem was described as a “local” one, impacting the site specifically as opposed to general subsurface conditions in the immediate vicinity of the location.