Volume 19 • Issue 15 | August 25 - 31, 2006


Wins small and big on Parker project

Last week, the City Council approved a plan to allow 150-foot towers on four north Tribeca blocks along West St. Since the city and the developer of one of the blocks had already agreed to come down significantly on height, the key question was bulk, better known in the zoning-jargon world as F.A.R., or floor-to-area ratio. On this important point the community, with Councilmember Alan Gerson as their advocate, won only a small victory.

On the most critical section — West St., along the waterfront — Gerson and residents negotiated a 6.25 F.A.R., down from 6.5, a far cry from their demands for a modest F.A.R. of 5. Anyone curious as to how bulky and ugly a 6.5 F.A.R. building can be, need only walk a few blocks up to Morton St. and take a look at the Morton Square project on West St.

We hope the Jack Parker Corporation, the developer behind the application, hires architects to come up with buildings that enhance — rather than block — the waterfront and allow light into the neighborhood. The same goes for Parker’s West St. neighbors when they undoubtedly come forward with their own development plans for the newly zoned swath, which stretches from West St. to Washington St. between Watts and Hubert Sts.

The zoning change allows residential uses, the most economically viable and perhaps only realistic way to develop the neighborhood. Similar changes in 1995 paved the way to making south Tribeca the vibrant neighborhood it is today.

We would have liked to see a better plan for these four blocks, but it is a whole lot better than Parker’s original idea for 200-foot-tall towers with a massive F.A.R. of 7 on the waterfront. Perhaps Gerson could have pressed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to demand a lower F.A.R., but her support of the community was uncertain.

We’re most disappointed in Quinn. Morton Square, after all, is in her district and she knows full well the complaints of Village preservationists and neighbors about this and other West St. buildings. Had Quinn backed Gerson fully, it would have strengthened his bargaining hand and we’d have a better plan today.

There are clear wins, too. The street wall along West St. dropped down from 85 feet to 65 feet. This will mean the 150-foot buildings will block less light and seem lower because each building’s first setback will be lower. Also, the F.A.R. on Washington St. came down to 5.5 from 6.

The street wall and height limits have implications beyond this four-block swath. When Community Board 1 sits down with the Department of City Planning in the coming months to rezone the rest of north Tribeca, the Parker site will set a precedent, laying the groundwork for human-scale development.

The process is worrisome. City Planning stalled discussions with C.B. 1 to rezone the entire neighborhood — including the Parker site — and appeared to rush through a private developer’s application instead, despite cries from residents to study the impact on the neighborhood.

As discussions resume for the rest of north Tribeca, we are glad the precedent won’t be new 200-foot buildings on West St. We have an organized alliance of local groups and an active community board to thank for that, and hopefully a receptive Department of City Planning. We hope this dialogue leads to a strong plan for the rezoning of the rest of north Tribeca.


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