Volume 18 • Issue 7 | July 8-14, 2005

Sculptor looks to break mold on new zoning

By Albert Amateau

Two years after Hudson Square was rezoned from manufacturing to residential/commercial and bigger buildings were allowed in part of the neighborhood, the sculptor Arman has applied for variances that would allow an even bigger project on his wedge-shaped lot at the corner of Canal and Greenwich Sts., which he has used as an outdoor studio for more than two decades.

The application before the Board of Standards and Appeals has provoked stiff opposition among neighbors and doubts among members of the Community Board 2 Zoning Committee, which will formally hear the proposal on July 14.

“I think it is unwarranted and very much of a contradiction,” said David Reck, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Zoning Committee. The Zoning Committee will make a recommendation to the full board, which will make a recommendation to the B.S.A. The B.S.A. will make the decision after a hearing at which supporters, opponents and expert witnesses present testimony.

“We’re going to ask Amanda Burden, the City Planning commissioner, to oppose the variance and stand behind City Planning’s own rezoning of two years ago,” said Kate Koster, who lives in a six-story condo building at 481 Greenwich St., across the street from the Arman property at 482 Greenwich St.

The Arman property is a paved lot with an existing one-story garage in one corner and a 50-foot-by-7-foot billboard facing Canal St. The sculptor, originally named Armand Fernandez, is well known in the art world for his accumulation style welding metal objects together. Arman, who has owned the property since 1977, and Red Brick Canal, L.L.C., a company that has a contract to buy the lot from the artist, are seeking three variances.

One variance would allow development of 11 stories instead of eight stories, and 25,000 square feet instead of 18,880 square feet. A second variance would allow the Canal St. side of the building to rise 111 feet without a setback instead of the current requirement for a setback at 85 feet. The third variance would allow the building to cover nearly 100 percent of the entire lot instead of the 80 percent lot coverage now required.

To get a variance, applicants must prove among other things that they cannot make a reasonable return on their investment by building “as of right,” or without any variances. But applicants must also show that the projects built under the variance would not have a significant negative impact on the neighborhood.

Deirdre Carson, of Greenberg Traurig, attorney for the property owners, wrote in the application that construction costs would be unusually high because of the shape of the lot, which comes to a 55-degree point at Canal and Greenwich Sts., and the fact that the site is on the historic shoreline of the Hudson River.

The project would require special care in excavation, dewatering during construction and deep piles for a foundation. Because the property was once a gas station with underground storage tanks, it would require removal of any contaminated soil, according to the application. Moreover, because the lot is on heavily used Canal St. two blocks from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, any residential project would require special noise-attenuation and air conditioning for its apartments, the application says.

The application says the building under the requested variance would not alter the character of the neighborhood, which in the past four years has seen five large new building projects, some of which are still under construction. To the contrary, the proposed building would be a neighborhood asset and an improvement to a site currently surrounded by a sheet metal fence behind which is a paved yard with a one-story garage and a high billboard, the application says.

But neighbors are outraged that a variance is being sought for a property in an area that was upzoned from a floor-to-area ratio of 5 to an F.A.R. of 6.02 in 2003. “Now they want to have an F.A.R. of almost 8,” said Sol Rosenblatt, a resident of 481 Greenwich St.

F.A.R. refers to the amount of square footage allowed to be enclosed by a building in relation to the size of the property lot. In fact, while Arman was given the right to build bigger under the zoning change two years ago, most other nearby property owners lost some F.A.R.

Arman’s wife, Corice Armand, said she and her husband did not let City Planning know that they wanted their property to be upzoned further two years ago, during the period when new zoning was being considered. She declined to comment further. Carson, Arman’s attorney, did not return calls.

Rosenblatt said the added bulk of the building, with no street wall on Canal St. and covering nearly 100 percent of the lot would reduce light and air in the neighborhood. “It would interrupt the main flow of air down Canal St. which blows out the air pollution from cars lining up for the entrance to the tunnel” he said. “The city rezoned this area because they did not want any more variances,” he added.

Indeed, the City Planning recommendation for rezoning the area between Hudson, Canal, Spring and Washington Sts. was done, according to Planning, “in response to land-use changes, increasing development pressure and a growing number of B.S.A. variance applications…that have raised issues of scale density and neighborhood character.”

Both use and bulk variances had been granted in 2000 for two recently completed residential towers, an 11-story building at 499 Greenwich St. and a 14-story building at 505 Greenwich St.

Reck said he did not think the financial hardship claim regarding high construction costs would stand up to B.S.A. scrutiny.

“There are two buildings between Renwick and Hudson Sts. and another on Hudson St. all being built in compliance with the zoning and I don’t think any of the developers would have gone into the ground unless they were pretty sure they would make a profit,” Reck said.

The July 14 Zoning Committee public meeting is likely to be a very long one, according to Reck. In addition to the Arman property variance, the committee will also hear the West Village rezoning proposal for the 14-block area between West and Washington Sts. and Horatio and Morton Sts.

Albert@DowntownExpress.com

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