Volume 18 • Issue 36 | January 20 - 26, 2006


Upholding city standards

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals will be holding hearings on two issues next week that will have direct repercussions Downtown but are also important to the entire city.

On Tues., Jan. 24 the B.S.A. will hear testimony on the proposed Arman Building at Greenwich and Canal Sts. The lot is owned by the estate of Arman, a noted sculptor who made a deal with Red Brick Canal to develop the lot before his death last year. The developers are seeking variances on height, lot coverage and setbacks.

The City Planning Commission did an excellent job re-zoning the Hudson Square area two years ago. The Arman property was rezoned residential, and the lot’s new, more liberal zoning allows the developers to build eight stories, but they are going for 11.

Full disclosure: the owner of Downtown Express, Community Media L.L.C., owns a commercial condominium which houses our newspaper offices across the street from the lot. Many others in the neighborhood share our opposition to the project.

In order to grant the variance, Red Brick must prove, among other things, that it won’t be able to make a reasonable return on its investment if it builds within the new zoning limits. The Hudson Square residential market is booming and before B.S.A. even thinks about granting variances for Arman, it should reexamine its own horrendous record in Hudson Square granting variances based on dubious “hardship” scenarios. Variances would undercut City Planning’s authority and send a signal to developers that zoning laws are nuisances to be overcome with time. The developers should not be given variances to skirt the new law so soon after it was enacted.

The day after taking up Arman, the B.S.A. will consider an appeal of the waiver the city Buildings Dept. granted the owners of 60 Hudson St. to store illegal amounts of diesel fuel for backup generators in the telecom building.

Given Buildings’ legendarily lethargic oversight across the city, the B.S.A. should take a hard and skeptical look at the safety precautions required in the variance and ensure they will be enacted. The Buildings Dept. took two years of secret meetings to come up with these precautions while 60 Hudson’s owner, GVA Williams, continued to store illegal amounts of diesel and essentially ignored criminal citations by the city’s Fire Dept.

The city’s safety is at stake. The precautions being put in place at 60 Hudson are probably more stringent than at other buildings in the city with diesel, and assuming the measures are deemed sufficient, the city’s Buildings Dept. must be more forthcoming about what it is doing to protect the people near these other buildings. A series of events led to the unfortunate disclosure that 60 Hudson had too much diesel, but the publicity did serve the purpose of forcing the city to act. The city should disclose the number of potentially dangerous buildings that existed when the 60 Hudson revelations came to light a few years ago, detail the measures that have been taken since that time, and detail the precautions it is in the process of putting in place.

Mayor Bloomberg should make sure an independent inspector has the authority to review Buildings’ progress and to let the public know if the agency is not doing enough to protect our safety. The B.S.A. can begin showing this inspector how to act Wednesday.


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