Three of the candidates running to replace term-limited Councilwoman Rosie Mendez in District 2 have all pledged their support for rezoning the area around the proposed “Tech Hub” on East 14th Street. The candidates committed their support at a candidate night hosted by historic preservation groups at the Third Street Music School on Monday night.
Nearly 100 concerned residents packed a recital hall in the East 11th Street building while District 2 candidates, as well as candidates running against incumbent Margaret Chin in District 1, fielded questions about their commitment to historic preservation in the neighborhood.
Candidates Erin Hussein, Carlina Rivera and Mary Silver, all Democrats, were all in attendance for the event, although Jasmine Sanchez and Ronnie Cho, who are also running for the seat, were unable to make it.
One of the main concerns for residents and representatives from the historical preservation organizations in attendance was how the mayor’s proposed Tech Hub on East 14th will change the neighborhood and how the development affects the possibility of more affordable housing in the area. Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation executive director Andrew Berman asked each candidate if they would pledge not to support the project unless the area south were rezoned.
“I don’t mind the Tech Hub but when I think of ‘Silicon Alley,’ an alley brings to mind a tiny street between buildings,” Hussein said regarding the development. “We don’t need giant buildings to have tech. Can’t we fashion some of these empty retail storefronts in the neighborhood into maker spaces?”
Hussein added that she agreed with Berman about height restrictions in the area.
“We need to limit the height of buildings to preserve the character of the neighborhood,” she said. “To change the character of the neighborhood just to put in a Tech Hub is a terrible choice.”
Hussein, who is a former real estate lawyer, said she understood the impetus behind the giant towers going up in the neighborhood but didn’t necessarily support them.
“It’s the developer’s job to build the biggest building and get the biggest return on their investment but elected officials have to be the ones who create rules about limiting overdevelopment,” she said. “(Those restrictions) help both the community and the developers know what to expect.”
Silver felt that New York could learn from Boston in dealing with developers because of some of the restrictions in place there.
“In Boston when a developer builds a high rise, (the community) can extract something from the developer in return, like space for a school or small business,” she said. “We should be legislating those initiatives.”
Rivera, who also said that she would only vote to approve the new development if the neighborhood is rezoned, said that she supports the idea of the hub because of the possible opportunities for small businesses.
“There should be a balance in supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship,” she said. “If the Tech Hub wants to come to 14th Street and if we’re going to bring in new jobs, we want businesses that work locally. I want to work with the community boards and want to help small businesses survive.”