Zoning complaint highlights tension around POPS regs

Recent complaints about the Andaz Wall Street’s new beer garden underscore the increased strictness of zoning rules for privately owned public spaces. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  An amendment to the city’s zoning laws, passed by the City Council in spring 2011, has resulted in new commercial uses for the privately owned public space (POPS) outside the Andaz Wall Street hotel. While the changes have received a generally positive community response, they have also sparked recent complaints that highlighted the strictness with which POPS regulations are now observed.

This May, the hotel, located at 75 Wall St., opened a beer garden in the space it owns between Pearl and Water Streets.

The Lower Manhattan Arcades Text Amendment, which affects 17 buildings on and around the entire length of Water Street, rezoned those properties to allow for the placement of café tables, chairs, umbrellas and garbage cans in outdoor public spaces, in addition to public seating, according to documents obtained from the Department of City Planning (D.C.P.). It was unanimously approved by Community Board 1, and also approved by the D.C.P.’s City Planning Commission, before being adopted by the City Council.

Andaz’s beer garden has now filled its previously deserted outdoor area with a small bar and a variety of tables, often packed by both local residents and Financial District workers seeking a drink after work.

“They should have more places like this,” said Wall Street resident Claudio Quaranta, 54, as he passed through the beer garden on a recent weekday evening. “It fills the dark, empty space so nicely, and it’s a great addition to the community.”

Another Wall Street resident, 30-year-old Summer Harris, who was walking her dog there on the same evening, said that in addition to the beer garden, she enjoys the farmers’ market held within Andaz’s POPS on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“I’ve lived down here for four years, and there used to be nothing, said Harris. “I think this has become a fantastic gathering place, and the hotel has done a really good job of keeping it clean.”

But senior citizen Diane Wintering, who lives on Hanover Square, recently confronted Andaz managers after being incensed by the beer garden’s violations of its POPS zoning regulations.

Wintering complained to the hotel on Fri., Aug. 10 because ping-pong tables and a large flat-screen TV had been placed in the public space, and because hotel staff were playing music on outdoor speakers. Those entertainment features are not allowed in the space, according to the Arcades Text Amendment.

By the following week, the music, ping-pong table and television had all disappeared. It was a relatively quick turnaround given the fact that Wintering was the only person who actually approached the hotel about the zoning violations, and city officials had not gotten involved, according to Rachel Harrison, a regional spokesperson for Andaz.

“A lot of people loved the ping-pong table and the T.V., but we took the complaint really seriously and immediately removed them,” said Harrison. “We have a great relationship with the community board and the city agencies, so we wanted to maintain that by being a good neighbor.”

But the Andaz’s swift compliance may have resulted from more than just an inclination toward good, neighborly behavior.

Since last September, when hordes of Occupy Wall Street protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park — a public space owned by developer Brookfield Office Properties — adherence to POPS regulations has become an increasingly scrutinized issue, said C.B. 1 Financial District Committee Chair Ro Sheffe.

“People are much more attuned to the proper and improper uses of those spaces now,” said Sheffe. “What happened last year [at Zuccotti Park] was certainly an eye-opener for many of us, so I think there’s a heightened awareness about the POPS rules.”

During the protesters’ encampment, which lasted about two months, police, city officials and Brookfield all struggled to figure out how to legally clear the park. The fact that it was technically open to the public 24 hours a day clashed with zoning laws that allowed Brookfield to impose restrictions on how the space could be used.

City Council Member Margaret Chin — whose office also received a complaint about the Andaz Hotel beer garden before its violations were corrected — stressed the necessity of maintaining strict POPS rules in order to avoid confusion in the future.

“It is important that operators, like the Andaz, adhere to zoning restrictions,” said Chin. “[The Lower Manhattan Arcades Text Amendment] wasn’t a license to take over and do whatever you want. There is a balance here, and it must be preserved.”

Wintering conceded that, to some degree, she appreciates that the Andaz addressed her complaints so quickly. But she remains dissatisfied overall, noting that she is disturbed by the very fact that the hotel’s outdoor space was legally rezoned for commercial purposes.

“If the Andaz POPS is allowed to continue functioning as a beer garden, it sets a precedent for others in the area to do the same,” said Wintering. “Soon, we will have a string of similar POPS all along Water Street, Wall Street, Front Street and, heaven forbid, Occupy Wall Street will have a bar in Liberty Park.  How will the public like that?”

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8 Responses to Zoning complaint highlights tension around POPS regs

  1. Well, rest assured, OWS is looking to come back on the anniversary in Sept.

  2. Diane Wintering

    The Downtown Express has chosen to print my comments about Privately Owned Public Spaces. Please note: never did you mention the use of picnic tables and bar tables and chairs, which in the law set, are not allowed.
    When I look at your photograph I see a huge sign hanging from one side to the other facing Water Street. "Andaz Hotel" is printed in large letters. I call this advertising and a for-profit enterprise run by the Andaz. A park is respite from the hustle bustle of this busy city…a place of quite, to read, write, think and rest our weary feet.
    And I ask, if I buy a beer from a store, can I bring it into this public park, sit down and drink it?
    Diane Wintering
    3 Hanover Square
    New York, NY 10004

    • The Downtown Express never should have printed your comments. The article begins by saying that there is general positive community support, then it chose to interview you and air your complaints. It sounds like Andaz is doing right by the community. Publishing one old lady's gripe seems ridiculous. Don't waste the readers' time with one curmudgeon's lack of vision.

  3. Richard Fabrizio

    I have lived in the Financial District since the early 1970s, and since its opening, I have enjoyed — along with mothers and fathers and their children, the elderly, and just the ordinary harried worker — the peace and quiet of the little park at 75 Wall Street. Now that is gone, and yet another public space has been given over to private interests — in this case to a Beer Garden, which is ironic when just the other day a man was given a summons for drinking beer on the front steps of his Brooklyn home. To the casual passerby who was quoted in your article, the Beer Garden may seem like a good idea, but if the passerby were to consider the serious implications for the well-being of all people that results from turning over a public space to private interests, they may wish to reconsider their opinions. First, 75 Wall Street was given permission by the City to build higher in return for this space to be used by the public as a park. Now both 75 Wall and the City break that contract with the public. Second, what is the function of a park if it is not to provide a place to rest from the weary hubbub of the city? There are too few such public places, especially in the Financial District. Third, the Andaz does not even abide by the new variance in the law given to the spaces along Water Street — among many other ordinances the Andaz is breaking is the one to provide a specific amount of feet of passage in the Portico area around the building . O tempora! O mores! Richard Fabrizio

  4. Any complaints about these spaces being used for commercial purposes are intentionally cranky. Sometimes you just can't have anyone having fun in plain sight without a bitter old lady shaking her broom at everyone.

    Diane Wintering should perhaps walk to Battery Park instead, or to the waterfront. Or, just a block away, there are another 5 or 6 POPS with benches and quiet. She has a handful of desolate options (after 5pm) if she hates young people that much.

    • You are exactly right…Diane Wintering is a cranky old lady. She admits it in the article…"Wintering conceded that, to some degree, she appreciates that the Andaz addressed her complaints so quickly. But she remains dissatisfied overall…" The music is gone, games are gone, tv is gone. What else does she want? Oh yeah, that's right, for everyone to be as miserable as she is. Enjoy life Mrs. Wintering and stop being "dissatisfied overall".

  5. The event will feature Yonder Mountain String Band headlining both days with several acts filling out the program, said the Planet's Brian …

  6. Sounds like an intense situation…I hope it will be resolved soon!

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