Volume 18 • Issue 46 | March 31 - April 6, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

William Wallerstein, vice president of the Jack Parker Corporation, in front of the block bounded by West, Watts and Desbrosses Sts. – a block his firm wants to develop into a 160-foot rental building.

Tribeca developer opens the door some to negotiations

By Ronda Kaysen

William Wallerstein is willing to negotiate on plans to develop a swath of the North Tribeca waterfront, the vice president of the Jack Parker Corp. told Downtown Express in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

The Parker Corp. certified a plan to rezone four blocks of the North Tribeca waterfront last month that would transform the manufacturing district into a commercial and residential neighborhood with a 160-foot height limit and a floor to area ratio of 7.5 along the water. Nearby residents and Community Board 1 balked at the proposal, insisting the new buildings would be bulky and cut the neighborhood off from the water.

On Wednesday, Wallerstein indicated that the proposal might be open for discussion. “I don’t know that it’s in my hands to close the door” on what density will ultimately be permitted.

The proposal is in the middle of a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and must be approved by the City Council and the City Planning Commission to go forward. C.B. 1, an advisory board, rejected it last week. City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents the district, has indicated that he would not endorse the proposal as is. Although he is only one vote, councilmembers typically look to the local representative when making land use decisions.

Sitting in Downtown Express’s offices two blocks from the proposed development site, Wallerstein said he has not met with Gerson about the rezoning proposal, which includes four blocks bounded by Watts, Washington, Hubert and West Sts. The company plans to develop a 300-unit rental property with waterfront views and a 180-car parking garage available to the public on the parcel it owns, which is bounded by West, Washington, Watts and Desbrosses Sts.

When asked if his project could move forward without Gerson’s support, he said he doesn’t want “to go down that road.”

Wallerstein did not rule out discussing community givebacks in exchange for the development. In 2003, the Parker Corp. opened a 464-unit residential tower on 47th St. In exchange for the new tower, the company agreed to restore the historic Biltmore Theater, which had been badly damaged in a fire. “We hope to do something similar here,” he said, speaking in general terms.

The community recently secured a new K-8, a new annex for P.S. 234, the neighborhood’s only zoned elementary school, a community center and a Whole Foods Market in exchange for high-rise residential developments at Sites 5B and 5C few blocks south of the Parker development.

Local residents have voiced concern that a new residential development will put a strain on P.S. 234, which is already at 120 percent capacity. “You don’t need me to tell you about the overcrowded schools or the trash that doesn’t get picked up sometimes,” said Hila Rosen, a Tribeca resident, at a March 21 C.B. 1 meeting shortly before the Parker resolution was rejected.

The Parker development will be mainly small studio, one- and two-bedroom rental units. Wallerstein estimated that the units would average about 850 sq. ft., a size he said that would not lure many families with school-aged children.

Wallerstein did not describe specific community amenities that he might be willing to offer, but noted that he was reluctant to concede anymore on height or bulk. “From our point of view, we’ve given up so much,” he said. The company purchased the land in 2002 and has spent “tens of millions of dollars” on the acquisition, designs that went nowhere and taxes on unused land. The corporation’s original proposal called for 210-foot towers with an F.A.R. of 10. “At some point it becomes unfeasible to do something. We’ve been squeezed incredibly to get to this point.”

Jack Parker, who is now retired, founded the Jack Parker Corp. in 1950. In addition to the Biltmore development, the corporation built Parker Towers in Queens in 1960, a 1,300-unit residential development that it still manages, and the Parker Meridian Hotel on W. 56th St. in 1980, which it also still maintains. Parker’s grandson, Adam Glick, is the corporation’s president.

Carole De Saram, president of the Tribeca Community Association, a neighborhood organization fighting the Parker development, bluntly challenged Wallerstein’s claim about being “squeezed.”

“When greed is a factor I guess he’s right,” she said. “What Tribeca is looking for is a responsible developer.”

In a six-page rejection of the Parker proposal, C.B. 1 laid out in detail the rezoning proposal that it has been working on for the entire North Tribeca neighborhood. Like Parker, C.B. 1 proposes changing the neighborhood to residential and commercial use, but with an F.A.R. of 5 — “higher than most of Greenwich Village… it’s substantial buildings,” said Tribeca Committee chairperson Rick Landman. The board is not opposed to the 160-ft. height limit.

But Wallerstein said that rather than offer new ideas, C.B. 1’s resolution failed to “lay out any ideas for what they’re looking for — it just wants things to stay the same.” Staying the same, he said, rejects the qualities that make New York a vital, growing metropolis. “Is what these people are saying is that they don’t want any new people in the neighborhood? That’s what it seems like.”

Landman insists the board is doing anything but staying the same. “We’re not opposed to residential conversion, we’re not opposed to development, but we are opposed to an F.A.R. of 7.5,” he said.

In a rare moment in the interview, Wallerstein stepped away from his argument that all his decisions were purely economically motivated and raised a philosophical question about the battle that has been brewing since Parker purchased the property in 2002. “People fear change. I think their default mode is to view change with apprehension,” he said. “But the people who live here live here as a result of change, they don’t live here as a result of things remaining the same. Is it change and then we draw the line and stop change? Or do we continue to evolve?”



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