Volume 19 • Issue 4 | June 9 - 15, 2006

City Planning mostly mum on Parker’s Tribeca plan

By Janet Kwon

Seated in a curved row under the chilly breeze of the air-conditioning, the 14 members of the City Planning Commission sat with cool faces — making it difficult to decipher their leanings — as they listened to a drove of witnesses testifying about the Jack Parker Corporation’s Tribeca North rezoning proposal.

The hearing, which took place June 7, lasted just under four hours, and mostly consisted of testimony given by residents, community board members and other concerned parties. The majority of those hours were spent discussing Parker Corp.’s rezoning plans — currently being reviewed under uniform land use review procedures.

Through the entirety of the hearing, the commissioners kept straight faces, careful not to give away their views one way or the other. However, they weren’t entirely tight-lipped. Towards the beginning of the hearing, Commissioner Jane Gol began to express support for rezoning all of North Tribeca rather than the four blocks Parker is applying for — a view backed by Community Board 1. Planning chairperson Amanda Burden quickly cut her off and gave the floor to the witnesses.

In addition, Commissioner Dolly Williams, who asked many questions throughout the hearing, posed yet another question to a Parker associate who testified about some “hardships” they were facing while trying to change the current zoning regulations. Williams pointed out that Parker’s lot exists in a very affluent neighborhood, and she asked the associate to list these “hardships,” putting the word in air-quotes.

Ever since Parker bought the property in 2002 and filed an application to rezone the four waterfront blocks bounded by West, Washington, Watts and Desbrosses Sts., many in the community have fought his plans. While garnering a range of reactions at the hearing — from avid rejection to fervent support, Parker Corp. expressed that they’re not going to take things lying down.

“The Jack Parker Corporation does not shy away from challenges,” said William Wallerstein, vice president of the corporation. He posted several colorful renderings of the four blocks in question as well as color-coded maps of the Tribeca North area.

Parker Corp. is seeking to rezone the four blocks to make the district into a commercial and residential one, while placing a height restriction of 160 feet and a floor to area ratio of 7.5. Under current zoning regulations, the district is to be primarily manufacturing, there is no height limit and the F.A.R. is set at 5, which is where Community Board 1 wants to keep it to prevent bulkier buildings.

C.B.1, an advisory board, rejected the Parker plan in March. Julie Menin, C.B.1’s chairperson, testified at the hearing on behalf of the board, emphasizing that the developer’s rezoning proposals “greatly exceeds the appropriate F.A.R. of 5,” and that rezoning Tribeca North should be done in a “comprehensive and holistic manner” — referring to a rezoning plan created by C.B.1 for the entire North Tribeca area. She also stressed that the lack of an environmental impact study adds to the mounting problems with Parker’s plan which she said is not fitting the character of Tribeca.

During his testimony, Wallerstein emphasized that the rezoning would make for buildings that are consistent with their surroundings. He said that 66 percent of the neighborhood buildings are between 6 and 10 F.A.R.

C.B.1 member Roger Byrom also testified, calling for “smart rezoning” in order to protect “many important buildings that will be adversely affected by the proposed project.”

In addition to members of the community board, Tribeca residents, artists, organizations and business owners testified as well — some for and some against Parker’s plan.

Several residents and business owners who were in favor of Parker’s proposal said there were a lack of stores, restaurants and general conveniences in their neighborhood. They viewed the rezoning as a way to welcome new businesses to the area, so they could “catch up with the rest of Manhattan.” One resident listed dry cleaners, pizza parlors, drug stores, 24-hour diners and hair salons as just a few things that the neighborhood needs. This testimony drew loud scoffs and pointed looks from those who were on the other side of the issue.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, made it clear that a comprehensive rezoning plan would be a better investment in the future of Tribeca.

“A piecemeal approach will not benefit the community… We can do something more terrific with a little patience,” said Stringer, referring to the extra time that would be needed to complete plans to rezone the entire area. Stringer may have the patience to wait, but Wallerstein said that waiting any longer would be detrimental to Parker’s bottom line. He said that going into the project, they expected it to take a few years for the zoning changes to clear. After four years and counting, “it’s simply not fair” to wait any longer, he added.

Many of those who opposed Parker’s proposal said that access to water and light would be curtailed significantly if the zoning changes were made. Derek Ferguson, co-founder of Integrated Studios on 449 Washington St., argued that the air and light that Tribeca offers is a part of the creative process, and that the low density living condition is what makes Tribeca a “haven from the hustle and bustle” of the rest of Manhattan.

In regard to the hustle and bustle and the rezoning for bigger and taller buildings, one resident summed up the feelings of many when he simply commented, “New York already has a Midtown,” followed by a burst of cheering and applause.

It is expected that City Planning will vote on this issue by July 12, but they have until July 17. If approved, the plan will then move to the City Council for a final vote.


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