Tribeca residents contest plans for historic Greenwich St. building

[/media-credit] Current plans for the renovation of 443-445 Greenwich St. has area residents concerned about their quality of life.

BY HELAINA HOVITZ  |  New development plans for a landmarked building on Greenwich Street in Tribeca have residents of neighboring buildings up in arms.

After dishing out a reported $150 million for the two buildings at 443-445 Greenwich St., real estate developer and manager Metro Loft Management has applied for the renewal of a special permit that would allow for the creation of residential apartments, hotel rooms and a health club. With 2.5 million square feet of property, Metro Loft claims to be the largest residential manager in Lower Manhattan.

But tenants of three neighboring buildings along Hudson and Vestry Streets are raising concerns about how the proposed project could negatively impact their day-to-day lives.

The high-profile apartment building at 195 Hudson St. is home to reality star and celebrity entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel and was the setting of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s secret wedding ceremony back in 2008. With apartments that run from $1 million to upwards of $8 million, residents feel that they have the right, at the very least, to a good night’s sleep — a right that is being threatened by Metro Loft’s plans for the neighboring 443-445 Greenwich St.

Dwellers of the costly condominiums fear that a hotel would ruin the character of the neighborhood and create even more noise, traffic, litter and pollution than there already is.

But even if Metro Loft opts to go completely residential, the developers are planning to install rooftop machinery closer together than permissible under the current law. To do so legally, it has applied for the renewal of a special permit to make modifications to the building’s height and setback requirements. The proposed design comprises the addition of one full story — or 20 feet — above the building’s rooftop and the installation of outdoor ventilation equipment, which nearby residents worry will block sunlight from entering some apartments.

Local residents are contesting the overall plans, arguing that they would not only impact the look and feel of the neighborhood but substantially impair the residents’ quality of life and diminish the value of their homes.

“Adding another floor is unnecessary,” said 195 Hudson St. resident Bonnie Taffer. “For the families whose windows face the building, that’s their only source of light, and they will lose all of the natural light in their apartments as a result.”

Taffer and others also fear that a new hotel would bring more traffic and deliveries coming and going at all hours.

Lynn Fisher, president of 195 Hudson St.’s condominium board, first learned about the plans at Community Board 1’s Tribeca Committee meeting last month.

“We certainly support this building coming alive and becoming a vibrant part of our neighborhood,” she said, “but we’re not happy about two stories’ worth of mechanical units coming right up to the edge of the building.”

The noise that would be generated by the proposed mechanical systems, Taffer added, would reverberate through the buildings’ shared alleyway and into the building’s bedroom units. “The alley echoes, so there will be substantial noise, turbulence and vibration.”

Despite the recent complaints, there is no debating Metro Loft’s right to build an additional floor or install a ventilation system, according to Jay Siegel, the company’s attorney.

Regarding the special permit, if the building were converted into a hotel, it would allow the penthouses and rooftop mechanical equipment to be situated in closer proximity to one another. If the building were brand new, said Siegel, the units could be so close together that they would adjoin; but because it’s a landmarked building, they must be separated.

According to Fisher, no resident or board member saw the plans before they were taken to the Department of City Planning. But they were unanimously approved four years ago by both the city and Community Board 1.

“No changes were made. It’s just a renewal, exactly as it was four years ago,” said Siegel. “For some reason, the same people who said nothing four years ago are voicing their concerns now.”

Michael Levine, C.B. 1’s director of planning and land use, said that, while neighbors did not raise any objections back in 2008, they likely weren’t informed at the time of Metro Loft’s plans for the next-door building.

Tenants already deal with noise and other disruptions coming from Tribeca Rooftop, a space at 2 Desbrosses St. that holds nightly events for up to 1,800 guests at a time. This fall, the venue will be opening a new restaurant, American Flatbread, at 205 Desbrosses St. with a proposed capacity of 350 people. It has acquired permits that allow the eatery to operate until 3 a.m. on weekends and until 2 a.m. on weekdays.

“It’s already almost impossible to sleep; there were nights this summer where the noise was so loud that I couldn’t even watch TV,” said Taffer, adding that idling busses and taxis picking up late-night patrons create street congestion and air pollution.

“People spill out all at once after midnight,” she said, “and garbage trucks are constantly grinding over beer and wine bottles left in the street.”

Metro Loft countered that its plan incorporates a change that would reduce potential noise pollution. Normally, half of the rooftop would have to be accessible to residents of 443-445 Greenwich St. to use as they wish, but the developer has been granted a special waiver that prevents anyone but people in the rooftop penthouses from using the roof. Siegel said that this policy would be in the best interest of 195 Hudson St. residents, since it would result in less commotion.

“Either way, we intend to make the rooftop operation as quiet as possible, regardless of whether the property is residential or a hotel,” he said. “People living or staying in the rooftop penthouses will be a lot closer than 30 feet away across the alleyway, so it’s in the best interest of our clients to make mechanical equipment as quiet as possible.”

The buildings’ shared alleyway, which locals currently park their cars in, is also subject to some changes. Fisher said she has heard that the developers are considering gating it off from the public.

Documentation provided by the developer to the Landmarks Preservation Commission indicates that there are plans to increase the size of the building’s loading docks and install more gates in the alleyway. Siegel said that, while he has no knowledge of Metro Loft’s plans to block off the alleyway, he heard about the developer’s plans to repave and repair it.

“We have a right to say whether someone gates off the alleyway or puts extra doorways under our property,” said Fisher. “They have no right to do any of it.”

She continued, “The Landmarks Preservation Commission and City Planning are under the mistaken belief that these folks own the alleyway when they don’t. We do. We pay taxes on it. In fact, they owe us substantial back taxes on it.”

At C.B. 1’s September full-board meeting, all but one board member voted in favor of a resolution recommending that Metro Loft develop a residential building instead of a hotel. The resolution also calls for the enlarged rooftop’s mechanical equipment to be set back so that its vibrations are minimally intrusive to neighbors.

“While a residential building will still pose challenges, there are alternatives to the current plans that we hope the developer will work with us on,” said Fisher. “We’ve invited them to come into our homes and look out of our windows to see the impact that the current design would have. We want more neighbors, not a hotel.”

Fisher and others are holding a stakeholders’  meeting on Wed., Oct. 3, the day after this publication went to press, in hopes that Siegel will attend and listen to the concerns of the community — but Siegel said he does not plan to show.

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