Housing bonds approved

By Elizabeth O’Brien

As residents worried that the community’s resources would be strained by the flood of new housing planned for Lower Manhattan, the city Housing Development Corporation last week approved one Liberty Bond project for apartments south of the trade center site.

The agency approved $77.5 million in tax-exempt Liberty Bond financing for 398 apartments in a 27-story former commercial building at 90 Washington St. It is the first Liberty Bond project to have received final authorization from the Housing Development Corp., which has agreed to consider an additional 10 residential proposals.

Among the 10 is a $200 million plan to create 551 residential units on the city-owned lot known as 5C, located behind P.S. 234 and bounded by Chambers, West and Warren Sts. One of the buildings on the site is slated for 8 stories, and the other is slated for 40. Community members say that the large-scale project would overwhelm the neighborhood.

“This is an inappropriately large building,” Bernard D’Orazio, a C.B. 1 member who heads Save Our Space, a group opposed to excessive development on the former Urban Renewal site, said at a recent meeting of the Tribeca Committee of C.B. 1. “It has the potential for causing tremendous long-term havoc in our neighborhood.”

The city will hear the public’s concerns about the 5C development at a public scoping meeting scheduled for June 26.

“In general, we try to work with the community as much as we can,” said Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which negotiated the deal with Jack Resnick & Sons.

The firm’s Scott Resnick did not return two calls for comment.

The 5C project would bring more congestion to the area, cast shadows on Washington Market Park and would cause further overcrowding in local schools, community members said.

“You can just see the waves coming to 234, which will just envelope the school,” George Olsen, a member of C.B. 1 and president of the parent teacher association at P.S. 234, said at a recent meeting of the youth and education committee of C.B. 1.

Olsen and others said that while they cheered the revitalization of Lower Manhattan, they were concerned that the area’s infrastructure could not keep pace with the planned development. Recently, plunging commercial rents have accelerated the push for more housing, as landlords and developers scramble to convert Downtown office buildings into apartments.

At least three of the Liberty Bond proposals under consideration by the Housing Development Corporation are commercial to residential conversions. One of these is the conversion of 29 upper floors of the landmark Woolworth building to luxury apartments.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, Woolworth developer Steven Witkoff scrapped controversial plans to make the building’s upper floors residential. Community members and preservationists felt that adding penthouses would mar the character of the landmark building at 233 Broadway, but Witkoff has revived the plan and asked the Housing Development Corporation for $80 million in Liberty Bond financing, according to agency spokesperson Tracy Paurowski.

Witkoff did not return two calls for comment.

Some have expressed optimism about the planned influx of apartments Downtown.

“We believe now is the time to focus on the residential, because the residential will eventually support commercial activity,” said Bryan Evans, spokesperson for the Downtown Alliance, which runs a business improvement district.

But others have criticized the Liberty Bond program for not providing for moderate-income tenants. Currently, none of the proposals the city is reviewing has any affordable housing component, according to Paurowski. Instead, the agency will charge successful developers a three percent fee, which will go towards the construction of affordable housing in all five boroughs, Paurowski said.

Some community members doubted the effectiveness of this plan, recalling how only a fraction of the money earmarked for citywide affordable housing actually went towards its intended purpose under the Battery Park City agreement between the city and the state.

“The idea that the city is going to do something different with this three percent—I’m skeptical,” Bernard D’Orazio said.

As part of its post-Sept. 11 economic stimulus plan, Congress allocated up to $8 billion in Liberty Bonds, largely for the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. The state and the city can each allocate up to $800 million in bonds for residential rental projects.

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

It is not often that people throw a party to celebrate zoning legislation, but developer Frank Sciame, left, Community Board 1 chairperson Madelyn Wils and Gary Fagin of the Seaport Community Coalition partied last week at Radio Mexico in honor of a new law to limit buildings in the Seaport to 120 feet. After working on the issue for years, the City Planning Commission voted to increase the proposed limit in the historic district to 170 feet, but the City Council rejected the recommendation and voted for 120 feet instead. Paul Goldstein, C.B. 1 district manager, said the key was getting the support of developers and business groups as well as preservationists. The coalition presented original paintings by artist Naima Rauam of low-rise Seaport buildings near Downtown skyscrapers to two key legislators in the fight – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Councilmember Alan Gerson.


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