The following is a letter from Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Carlina Rivera on June 28 regarding zoning changes and protections for the neighborhood ahead of the development for the Tech Hub planned for East 14th Street.
Dear Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Rivera,
I write regarding commitments that were made following the approval of the upzoning for the planned Tech Hub at 124 East 14th Street. That zoning change was approved by the City Planning Commission over a year ago, on June 27, 2018. Yet as of today, most of the extremely modest commitments made to provide protections or mitigations to the surrounding neighborhood for the negative impact of the planned development have neither been implemented nor even proposed. And several key commitments made by the developer and the city regarding protecting the surrounding community from the impacts of the construction have already been broken.
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.”
The owners of the former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, who’d proposed a 12-story residential building for the site, have since changed their request, by proposing a smaller, nine-story building instead. In January the owners, Benenson Capital Partners, partnering with Mack Real Estate Group, had gone to the Board of Standards and Appeals to request a zoning variance they’d need to build 12 stories since current zoning only allows for an eight-story structure. Their plan however was fought by community residents as well as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
The owners’ most recent proposal, which would boost height 14.5 feet higher than what is currently allowable, has also already been blasted by the preservation group. The GVSHP has argued that a building that high is out of context for the East Village and has also claimed that the owners’ main reason for wanting the variance — higher than expected construction costs due to underground water and soil conditions — doesn’t constitute a unique hardship.