By Andrew Berman, Executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
Previously unheard of development is streaming ahead in the blocks between Union Square and Astor Place, Fifth and Third Avenues. A 300 ft. tall luxury condo tower is rising on University Place and 12th Street. A 300 ft. tall office tower is planned for Broadway and 12th Street. A 120-room hotel for party-hopping millennials is going up on East 11th Street. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Why is this happening in a largely residential neighborhood known for its historic character and modest scale? Mostly because the area’s zoning dates to 1961, when the neighborhood was largely commercial, and tall towers rather than contextual development were in vogue. And although virtually everyone in the affected community, including elected officials, supports a rezoning we proposed that would put reasonable height limits in place, reinforce the area’s residential character, and add affordable housing incentives, the mayor adamantly opposes it.
Now that situation may go from bad to worse. The mayor wants to turn a city-owned lot on 14th Street containing a PC Richards store originally slated for modestly-scaled residential development into a giant “Tech Hub” that would extend “Silicon Alley” from Union Square down to Astor Place. This would accelerate the oversized, commercial development in the nearby blocks, and rob the local community of a rare chance to create some affordable housing.
The impact is being felt already. A developer is now contemplating constructing a huge office tower for tech businesses at Broadway and 11th Street. And IBM just announced plans to move 600 workers to University Place.
But this is far from the end of the story. In order to build his Tech Hub on 14th Street, Mayor de Blasio needs a rezoning, which requires City Council approval. And Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who represents the area, is standing firm with GVSHP and the local community to say she won’t support the rezoning unless the mayor couples it with the much-needed rezoning of the residential blocks to the south. This would help preserve the scale and character of this area and help create the affordable housing the mayor’s Tech Hub plan would preempt on that site.
(It should be noted that if the mayor had agreed to the rezoning plan we called for two years ago, the six area developments now moving forward could have included 50,000 square feet of affordable housing. A few hundred thousand additional square feet of affordable housing could be built in those blocks in the years ahead if the plan is adopted. How much will get built if it’s not? Virtually none.)
So far the mayor has balked, threatening the good jobs and training the Tech Hub could create because of his opposition to the rezoning.
So will the mayor make this a win-win, coupling the Tech Hub with much-needed zoning protections for the affected adjacent neighborhood? Only time will tell. Thousands of New Yorkers have asked the mayor to do so. What remains to be seen is if he will do the right thing, for our neighborhood and the city, and listen.