By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Neighborhood preservationists were disappointed that City Council’s approval for the proposed Tech Hub on East 14th Street at Irving Place last Thursday didn’t include specific rezoning to protect the area south of the new center, while Council Member Carlina Rivera celebrated the unanimous vote for the plan, claiming that the city is working on putting neighborhood protections in place. The City Council’s Committee on Land Use approved the project at the beginning of the month and the full Council approved the measure last Thursday.
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation executive director Andrew Berman criticized Rivera, who represents the area on East 14th where the new tech center will be built as well as the neighborhood to the south, for voting yes on the plan, noting that she campaigned on the issue and promised she would only vote for it with specific protections for the surrounding neighborhood.
“The City Council’s deal approves the mayor’s Tech Hub with just a fraction of a fraction of the protections the surrounding neighborhood needs and called for, and which Rivera promised to condition her vote upon,” Berman said. “The approval of the Tech Hub will accelerate the transformation of the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods into an extension of ‘Midtown South’ and ‘Silicon Alley,’ which many developers and real estate interests have already begun to call them. We are seeing 300-foot tall office and condo towers going up in this area and 300-room hotels being built, which are completely out of character for these neighborhoods, with many more to come.”
But Rivera told Town & Village last week that she “disagreed with the messaging” from the GVSHP because the approved plan includes provisions for landmarking and protections for tenants, as well as a special zoning permit for hotels in the area.
“We worked with all stakeholders throughout the process,” Rivera said of the plan. “We’re delivering the protections throughout the area. Third Avenue to University Place was my focus and I’ve been able to accomplish that.”
Rivera explained in an email to constituents that some of the protections for that area include slating seven Broadway buildings for landmarking and establishing the protective zoning measure south of 14th Street that will require a special permit for hotels.
In a letter to the Department of City Planning, Rivera pushed the administration to establish the new special permit in the area south of Union Square from Third Avenue to University Place, which would require a site-specific review process to ensure that hotel development only occurs on appropriate sites that can accommodate that use.
Protections in the plan also include committing resources from the Mayor’s Office, the LPC and the Department of Buildings to protect the Merchant’s House Museum on East 3rd Street. The protections for tenants in the area will include a tenant-protection campaign lead by NYC Housing Preservation and Development for residents in the neighborhood south of the Tech Hub to ensure rent-stabilized tenants know their rights and how to spot tenant harassment.
Berman argued in a statement that the zoning protections included in the plan will have “little to no effect” on overdevelopment of the neighborhood. Berman said that the specific provision referred to as “zoning protections” regarding hotels won’t be as effective as it could be since it will not office buildings and high-rise condos, which he argued can also contribute to overdevelopment.
“Councilmember Rivera broke her promise to the community and voted for a commercial upzoning which will increase development pressure on these neighborhoods without providing anything like the protections they need or she promised,” Berman said in the statement. “Trying to pass off flimsy measures with little effect as the protections this community fought for won’t change that.”
Rivera has been pushing for the tech hub because of the services that it would provide for the surrounding community, which include training for jobs in the tech industry, as well as space for incubator programs and small start-ups.
“I want to build bridges to a sector that people in my district haven’t had access to in a field that could bring success to people that I know,” Rivera said. “I grew up in this community and you need a supportive community to succeed.”