Volume 18 • Issue 39 | February 10 - 16, 2006

North Tribeca building changes advance a step

By Ronda Kaysen

The City Planning Commission certified a North Tribeca developer’s application to redevelop a swath of the waterfront — setting the stage for a fierce battle with local residents about the historic district’s future.

The Jack Parker Corporation would like to rezone four North Tribeca blocks bounded by West, Washington, Watts and Hubert Sts. for residential development. The application lays the groundwork for the developer, who controls the development rights for one of the blocks, to transform the manufacturing neighborhood into one that would allow for a 300-unit apartment building and a 160-foot height limit along West St.

“We are pleased that the City Planning Commission has voted to certify a proposed zoning change… in the outmoded manufacturing zone,” Jack Parker’s vice president, William Wallerstein, said in a prepared statement.

Local residents, however, are not so pleased and are quickly mounting a counter-attack.

“Why should the rest of the community be in shadows with no light and air for the benefit of the developer?” said Tribeca Community Association president and Community Board 1 member Carole De Saram.

The Tribeca Community Association is currently interviewing lawyers to prepare for a lawsuit against Parker.

Parker’s application calls for a 160-foot height limit along West St. and 120 feet along Washington St. and allows for up to 260,000 sq. ft. of space. The application also calls for a parking garage.

Residents worry the development will wreak havoc on the sleepy neighborhood. The parcel in question sits south of the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, which often cripples the western edge of Canal St. with an impassable mass of gridlock. The block-long parcel Parker owns, bounded by West, Washington, Watts and Desbrosses Sts., sits across the street from Fleming Smith Warehouse, a historic building.

Residents had been working with City Planning to devise a rezoning plan of their own for the neighborhood in response to Parker’s four-year effort to develop the area. Residents and political leaders were stunned to learn that the department planned to certify Parker’s application without a comprehensive environmental impact statement for the area.

A full E.I.S. would give the public the opportunity to weigh in with its opinions in a public scooping session and give the community board the opportunity to voice its opinion before the application was certified by City Planning.

“We were all very disappointed that City Planning did not keep us in the loop, did not give us accurate information, did not give us a heads up about where the process was at,” said C.B. 1 Tribeca Committee co-chairperson Rick Landman, who learned that the application had been certified from Downtown Express. “We are just totally confused.”

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden insists the process will not exclude the public and certification does not mean City Planning support. The application must go through a lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which allows the community board, the borough president, the City Planning Commission and the City Council to weigh in on the proposal. “The commission often modifies the plan and then it goes to the City Council. It will get a full public review,” Burden told Downtown Express.

The ULURP process does not appease residents and political leaders who would like to see a full E.I.S. and the neighborhood rezoned with lower height limits and less density. “It is not the job of the City Council to stop it. It is the job of City Planning to plan the city,” said De Saram. “What we have here is, City Planning is not planning.”

Allowing a developer to rezone several blocks of a neighborhood to accommodate a single parcel of land “sets a terrible precedent,” said De Saram and City Planning should step in and prevent such a thing from happening. “If this is a loophole,” she said, “Then it needs to be fixed.”

Burden says her hands are tied: Parker reduced the height limits on his buildings from 210 feet to 160 feet and is no longer required to conduct a full E.I.S. The department could not block the application. “There was no way, he didn’t have to do it [an E.I.S.] We looked at it really carefully… you don’t make somebody do it if they don’t have to do it,” said Burden.

A group of Westside elected officials, led by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, sent Burden a joint letter Monday, deploring the department’s decision, calling it “a complete repudiation of the open and transparent process.”

Wallerstein at the Parker Corp. said the application compliments the changing neighborhood and is the result of “a continuing dialogue with the department.”

“This carefully crafted zoning proposal sensitively and responsibly balances various planning and community issues,” he said in the statement, “and establishes an appropriate context for development that reflects the character and quality of the neighborhood.”



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