Preservationists blast tech hub plan

Site of the future Tech Hub on East 14th Street at Irving Place (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.

Rendering for the new Tech Hub

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.”

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3 thoughts on “Preservationists blast tech hub plan

  1. Rivera’s vote exposes a bigger issue which is destroying our neighborhoods and democracy at City Hall . The bigger issue is the power of the real estate lobby who hand pick staffers of council members who want to replace their bosses when termed out. Many of present council members want to run for State seats and will remain loyal to REBNY for the right price. The present term limit system with one corrupt party run by a few bosses is perfect for deep pockets REBNY. Rivera is just a product of a terrible political system run by an Oligarchy . Already she is way in over her head representing the Village area where on one hand she pledges to find a solution to stop the closing of small businesses and she is a proud sponsor of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. On the other hand she is mimicking the REBNY talking points of the “SBJSA is not a Silver bullet and we need to use all the tools in the toolbox and pass other measures to help small businesses. Her first measure , introduce a bill that would require the Department of Small Business Services to complete an assessment of storefront businesses in every community district in the city at least once every five years.
    That will be an easy count with empty storefronts in every block. Expect her to vote for a changed /watered down SBJSA that keeps the status quo. Sad and Shameful

    • Read the article below this one: “Blueprint for Affordable Housing.” It was written by the very people you are referring to in your comment!

  2. There is an important community resource missing in the lead photo. Once construction starts on the proposed Tech Hub, what happens to the 14th St Busway especially if construction starts prior to Summer 2020 when the L train is still shut down?

    The speed at which this proposal was pushed through the City Council strongly suggests that the project is on a fast track to being permitted which strongly suggests that it could be completed and demolition of the current structure could begin even prior to the April 2019 start of the shutdown. Which, of course, brings up the real issue: where will the students living in the NYU dorms shown in the lead photo be housed?

    I believe the answer to that lies in “NYU’s Strategy for Future Growth”. (Search the title to read the document.) In it, NYU indicates that its growth plans in Manhattan include the “Neighborhood” which extends East to First Ave from 17th St down to Canal St. We know it also includes StuyTown, and NYU has, so far, shown that it has little or no interest in being a good neighbor.

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