Laight St. project divides C.B. 1 committee

By Josh Rogers

The boarded-up site across from the Holland Tunnel exit rotary may have graffiti and posted bills, but some members of Community Board 1’s Tribeca committee are opposing the development of the site because they don’t think the developer should change the number of apartments in the proposed building after he already has approval to build five luxury lofts there.

The members opposing the change to the dormant project at 48 Laight St. argue that dividing the five lofts into 10 smaller units may open the door for larger projects to subdivide.

“I’m not going to change my principles and set a bad precedent,” Marc Ameruso, one of the opponents, said at a committee meeting May 1.

The developer, David Ennis of The Daten Group, said one of the reasons two developers before him failed is because in the current economy, it is no longer possible to market large lofts in Lower Manhattan. “I’m not throwing myself before the community board for nothing,” Ennis said. “I don’t believe these units are selling after 9/11. That market went dead.”

He expects the smaller, 1300-square-foot lofts to sell for $900,000 and the 1700-square-foot units to sell for $1.3 million.

The meeting was marred by confusion over whether three new appointees to the board had been officially appointed to the committee and had a right to vote. The new members favored allowing Ennis to proceed and if their votes count, it would mean the committee would be recommending C.B. 1 endorse the project.

Ennis has applied to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to change his variance to allow for more lofts, and a C.B. 1 recommendation would make it easier to get approval. The size of the building would still be six stories and he said he would not change the look of the proposed exterior since he already has approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build in the Tribeca North Historic District.

Ennis declined to release any renderings of the proposed building.

The committee’s chairperson, Albert Capsouto, was surprised most of the veterans on the committee opposed the change since in general, the community board has favored building more housing in general, and less expensive apartments in particular.

“Don’t we want smaller affordable apartments in Tribeca,” Capsouto asked. “What are we saying?”

Capsouto ended up taking two votes, one with the new members which favored a variance approval by a vote of 5-2 with two abstentions and one without the new members, in which the resolution did not pass. In the second vote, Capsouto and Jimmy Gallagher voted for passage, but Ameruso and Roger Byrom voted against, and Paul Sipos and Elise Ward abstained, which is the equivalent of a no vote.

A few days later, Capsouto said he plans to present the issue to the full board next week and see if they want to vote on a resolution.

The new members, Michael Connolly, Arthur Gregory and George Olsen, said they thought adding five apartments was a minor change especially compared to the apparent alternative of leaving the corner of Hudson and Laight Sts. inactive.

“It may make these apartments work instead of having the [closed] gas station and the boards up there,” Olsen said. “It makes the neighborhood more affordable.”

Madelyn Wils, C.B. 1’s chairperson, was out of town the week of the committee meeting. When told about the issue by a reporter, at first she assumed it was the newer members who were raising objections since it didn’t sound like a big change to her. “The new members had a problem with that?” she asked, sounding a bit surprised.

She said the new members were not on the committee because she had not assigned them yet. Connolly and Olsen said Paul Goldstein, the board’s district manager, told them to pick two committees to serve on.

Byrom, who previously opposed the project’s approval by the Landmarks Commission, said increasing the number of apartments was not minor. “This is quite a major change,” he said.

Dana Sottile, the project’s architect, said the idea of having one 3,000-square-foot loft per floor “was done in ’99 during the golden age.” Francis R. Angelino, Ennis’ attorney, said the original developer, Glenn McDermott, was not able to get financing, and McDermott sold the land to Metalmark Group, who agreed to sell it to Ennis earlier this year.

Ameruso made an unusual motion to table the resolution after it had been voted on twice. After considering taking a vote to table, Capsouto decided against since it would raise the same problem of who was eligible to vote. Table motions are designed to delay a vote on a resolution, not to nullify one.

Ennis said a delay could jeopardize his project. “There’s a major time constraint in my deal but you’re not interested in the economics of my deal,” he said to the committee.

Gallagher, who said he would not be able to afford to live in the building regardless of how small the lofts were, was nevertheless sympathetic to the developer. “It’s kind of silly to hang these people up for a month,” he said.


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