Volume 18 • Issue 7 | July 8-14, 2005

Don’t vary from rezoning with variances

Two years ago, the City Planning Commission passed a major zoning change for Hudson Square, changing the designation in the neighborhood’s southern portion from manufacturing to residential and commercial for new projects and downzoning all the area save for one small corner.

That corner, the northwest intersection of Greenwich and Canal Sts. and owned by the renowned sculptor Arman, was actually slightly upzoned by City Planning from a floor-to-area ratio of 5 to an F.A.R. of 6.02, allowing a bigger building to be built on it.

Now, Arman and other investors want to construct an apartment tower bigger than the new zoning allows. Under the size limits, the building can be eight stories tall and contain 18,880 square feet of space. But Arman and the development group want three variances to allow a building 11 stories tall with 25,000 square feet.

When Planning rezoned Hudson Square — the increasingly upscale neighborhood formerly known as the Printing District — it sought to end the area’s planning, or lack thereof, by so-called “spot zoning.” The latter had been the norm in recent years, as residential variances for two big luxury buildings were granted on Greenwich St. The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals has been too quick to grant variances and has not been making developers prove their cases — particularly in Hudson Square and Tribeca.

Arman and his potential partners are seeking variances from the B.S.A.for a larger building — even though the rezoning gave them 20 percent more buildable space..

Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden did a great job on the Hudson Square rezoning, which recognizes the area’s low-scale character and density. We commend Burden for opposing a variance for a 13-story Tribeca building at 180 W. Broadway and she should do the same on the Arman project since it represents an attack on her staff’s good work.

And we call on Community Board 2’s Zoning Committee to vote against all three variances — for extra F.A.R.; 100 percent, instead of 80 percent, lot coverage; and an exemption from streetwall setbacks on Canal St. — at its July 14 meeting.

In addition, in environmental terms, a building of this height, covering the full lot, with a sheer Canal St. wall would add to the existing pollution problem on this stretch of Canal St. near the Holland Tunnel, funneling carcinogens down Greenwich St.

Also, the hardships developers typically claim to justify getting variances are exaggerated. In the case of the eponymous Arman Building, one hardship claim is that some of the subsurface is unstable landfill, meaning extra foundation work is needed. Yet, every new building west of Greenwich St. faces such conditions.

Full disclosure: Downtown Express’ office, which is owned by the newspaper, is across Greenwich St. from the Arman project. Yet, the opposition to this project is communitywide.

City Planning officials spent a lot of time consulting with Hudson Square property owners and residents before they came up with a sensible new zoning plan two years ago. The B.S.A. should not then turn around and approve variances for developers that are inconsistent with the height, scale, and density guidelines just passed. The agency should just say No to the Arman variances.

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