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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The City Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee last week heard four hours of testimony by advocates and opponents of the Hudson Square residential rezoning proposal.
The hearing, attended by about 100 people, was held at 250 Broadway, across the street from the Council Chambers in City Hall.
Many who spoke called for a linkage between rezoning Hudson Square, the area just west of Soho, and landmarking the rest of the proposed South Village Historic District as put forward by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. To date, the city has landmarked only about one-third of the proposed historic district.
Andrew Berman, director of G.V.S.H.P., said rezoning the adjacent Hudson Square area to allow residential use would surely ratchet up development pressure on the historic, low-rise South Village — so the landmarking of the rest of the proposed district must come before the rezoning. If the South Village isn’t landmarked, Berman and others said, then the rezoning should not go forward.
Berman later said he was disappointed that some of the subcommittee’s members didn’t appear to know exactly where the South Village, or even Hudson Square itself, were, or to fully grasp their geographical proximity.
The councilmembers’ questions were along the lines of “Is the South Village Hudson Square?” and “Is Hudson Square in the South Village?” as well as “What is the relationship between the two neighborhoods?”
At one point, asking for clarification, Leroy Comrie, chairperson of the Council’s full Land Use Committee, shrugged a bit and offered apologetically, “I’m a Queens guy.”
“We sent packets to all of them prior to this in order to educate them,” Berman said later. “I give credit to [subcommittee chairperson] Mark Weprin, who runs a good meeting, but too few of the councilmembers seemed to know the details of the proposal and its impact. They seemed more confused than anything. There didn’t seem to be anybody there to illuminate the other members of the committee about the parameters of the neighborhood.”
A spokesperson for Council Speaker Christine Quinn — whose Third Council District includes Hudson Square and most of the South Village —said the speaker supports designating the entire proposed historic district — and will continue to advocate for this. However, landmarking is initiated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, he added.
Meanwhile, David Gruber, chairperson of Community Board 2, testified that the rezoning — which is being pushed by Trinity Real Estate and is expected to add around 8,000 new residents to the district in the next 10 years — doesn’t adequately address the city’s requirement for public recreation space. C.B. 2 wants Trinity to include a rec center in the new tower the company plans at Duarte Square, at Sixth Ave. and Canal St. Trinity already plans to include space for a new, 444-seat public school in this tower’s base, and instead has agreed to contribute $5.6 million toward the nearby Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, which is actually just outside the rezoning area. Gruber also called for landmarking the South Village.
The rezoning would also cap building heights in Hudson Square, where none currently exist. In addition, Berman and Gruber called for lower heights on large streets than what was recently approved by the City Planning Commission for Hudson Square — 290 feet.
Trinity Church, one of the oldest parishes in the nation, owns 40 percent of the land in Hudson Square.
Testifying on behalf of the rezoning, Jason Pizer, president of Trinity Real Estate, said, “We take a long-term view — weighing how decisions taken today will impact the years and decades ahead.
“The goal of the rezoning is to strengthen and protect the area as a flourishing center for creative companies and jobs, while invigorating and preserving Hudson Square’s special character,” Pizer said. “Allowing limited residential development will add a missing ingredient essential to promoting street life and enriching retail opportunities. The introduction of height limits and disincentives to demolition will help preserve the area’s large buildings and neighborhood character. While Hudson Square is doing O.K. today, these changes are vital for the area’s continued value as a dynamic, 24/7, mixed-use neighborhood.”
This was the final public hearing on the rezoning. The Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee will next vote, followed by the Land Use Committee and then the full City Council, probably in mid-March sometime.
Asked later on Tuesday if there’s anything to report on the Landmarks Preservation Commission possibly designating the rest of the South Village anytime soon, spokesperson Lisi de Bourbon said, “No, other than it remains under consideration.”
When L.P.C. approved one-third of the South Village proposed district, it called it an expansion of the existing Greenwich Village Historic District.