Volume 18 • Issue 51 | May 5 - 11, 2006


Misuse and abuse of zoning, variances has got to end now

Two contentious Downtown building projects highlight why the city must continue to be vigilant about the misuse and abuse of zoning and variances.

On the West Side, the Arman Building project at the northwest corner of Greenwich and Canal Sts., to be developed by Red Brick, represents how developers try to flout carefully considered new rezonings intended to keep neighborhoods contextual in terms of height and bulk.

On the East Side, at 4 E. Third St. on the Bowery, a 16-story building designed by architect Robert Scarano and almost completed illustrates what happens when zoning and building loopholes are abused. This building is grossly out of proportion with its mostly low-rise neighbors.

Both projects have hearings pending at the Board of Standards and Appeals. Four E. Third St. is facing a challenge on the above points. The Arman Project is seeking several variances.

A few blocks from Arman in North Tribeca, the Jack Parker Corporation is looking to change the zoning on four blocks to allow for larger development plans, and if the firm is unsuccessful, Parker and other developers will likely go to the B.S.A. to get what they couldn’t get at City Planning.

There’s impressive evidence that the Scarano project is chock full of irregularities. For one, its uses have constantly morphed: First there were supposed to be several floors of faculty apartments, now it’s primarily a hotel. Yet, it was built with one set of uses in mind, and now is to be used for others. And the inclusion of open mezzanines on lower floors to get added height and bulk is a trick that city agencies are now finally catching onto, albeit after this building exploited it. The city should make an example of this building — and also of this architect, who has designed scores of buildings using these dubious gimmicks.

As for the Arman Building, the B.S.A. must not allow an overreaching developer to flout the new Hudson Square rezoning. There should be no additional F.A.R. allowed — after all, this site’s F.A.R. was increased from 5.0 to 6.02 under the rezoning. A variance from required setbacks should not be allowed, either, since setbacks were included to keep new buildings from being oppressive with sheer walls, as well as to blend in with existing lower buildings. And why allow the project greater lot coverage? This only will add to the building’s bulkiness, again thwarting the intent of the rezoning.

Thankfully, there are encouraging signs from the city that lead us to believe maybe the pleas of neighbors regarding these two buildings will not go in vain. The Department of Buildings is said to be tightening up its oversight of architects’ self-certification of building plans, as well as cracking down on use of the mezzanine loophole, both of which have allowed architects like Scarano to design abnormally large projects. And City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden has already weighed in strongly against the Arman Building variance request for additional bulk. We hope the B.S.A. follows suit and does the right thing on these two buildings. It’s time to draw the line against abuses and misuses of zoning and variances.


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