By Sabina Mollot
The developers of the former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office site have given up on trying to get the green light to add another story to their planned East 14th Street residential building.
The announcement that Benenson Capital Partners and Mack Real Estate Group had withdrawn their application was made on Tuesday morning. The news, delivered by Ryan Singer, executive director of the Board of Standards and Appeals, to a group of mostly union member protesters across the street from the BSA building on Reade Street, elicited cheers.
“The process worked the way it should,” Singer said. “Based on comments from the board yesterday, they felt they could no longer pursue the variance.”
He added, “The only action today is to accept the withdrawal.”
The withdrawal from Mack and Benenson came a day after an executive session at the BSA, which is when the public is allowed to listen in as commissioners talk among themselves about applications.
The protesters, a few of whom had planned to testify against the project, then stood around for a bit to chant victoriously, while holding signs that read, “BSA, demand the Truth” and “Richard Mack, your math is whack.” As for that accusation, the property service workers’ union 32BJ SEIU, in a press advisory, had accused the developers of using “fuzzy numbers” in their application.
“Worker and community groups have reviewed documents the developers submitted for a loan in which the developers attest that even under current zoning laws the smaller building would be profitable,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, in their application to the BSA, the owners had said that more height was needed to make up for the fact that the project had become much more costly than expected due to groundwater and soil conditions at the site, across the street from Stuyvesant Town. The partners had at one point requested an additional four stories on top of the originally planned eight. Earlier this month, however, the developers proposed a compromise — just one additional floor. Current zoning only allows for eight stories.
In its most recent application for a zoning variance, citing an economic analysis done on the property, the owners said that without the variance, the cost of construction would end up being $6 million more than the building ends up being worth upon completion.
But opponents of the plan, including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, didn’t think any additional height was appropriate, arguing it would negatively impact the character of the East Village. They also said the owners hadn’t proved there was a unique hardship at the property that justified a variance.
Asked about the reason for the withdrawal, Eric Waters, a spokesperson for the owners, said, “We felt we had to withdraw the application since it appeared that a decision was not imminent, and we wanted to have affordable units on line as soon as possible. It is unfortunate that we were not able to deliver even more affordable units to the community as we had hoped to do.”
The developers will likely continue with the as-of-right project as originally planned, including 23 affordable apartments.
It was in 2015 when Benenson, along with partner Mack, announced a plan for a 114-unit building with ground floor retail and 20 percent affordable housing. They later requested permission to build higher. The location had previously been home to a Post Office from 1953 to 2014, when the United States Postal Service opted for a smaller space nearby.
Following Tuesday’s protest, Rachel Cohen, a spokesperson for 32BJ SEIU, which has over 80,000 members, said the union had gotten involved in this particular fight over affordable housing as well as potential jobs.
“Our members need affordable housing, so we’re involved in a number of community campaigns around that issue,” Cohen said. She added, “There should be good jobs in the building.”
A few residents of neighboring buildings were also at the protest. One, Stuyvesant Town resident Lynne Hayden-Findlay, said she was primarily concerned about overdevelopment along the street.
“We’re losing our light,” said Hayden-Findlay, whose apartment is sandwiched between the Post Office site and another construction site on East 14th Street, an Extell development. She added that she missed the stationery store that was next to the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, since that too was part of the same property demolished for the new residential building.
“They were taking the building and he had to leave after 32 years,” she said of the shop’s owner. “We’re losing our neighborhood stores.”
Reps for Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Brad Hoylman were also in attendance.