Volume 20 Issue 10 | July 20 - 26, 2007

Nabe says: We’re here, we’re Square, get used to it

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

David Reck, left, and others listened as Richard Barrett, right, described the area at the corner of Greenwich and Canal Sts. on a tour of Hudson Square on Tuesday.

By Lucas Mann

Erin Roeder sat on a panel of developers on the stage at Don Hill’s bar, on the corner of Spring and Greenwich Sts., trying to envision Hudson Square. She was looking for a way to explain the difficulties of that task.

“Let me just say this,” said Roeder, a Trinity Real Estate executive. “In our research we’ve found that there’s 1.3 million Google searches a year for ‘Soho’ and 1.2 million a year for ‘Tribeca.’ There are 25,000 searches for ‘Hudson Square.’”

And that was a key point of the all-day “Envision Hudson Square” charrette hosted by the Friends of Hudson Square on July 17: Before good change in the neighborhood can be fostered or bad change rooted out, the neighborhood of Hudson Square must build an identity. That identity is being geographically defined as West St. to Hudson St. and Leroy St. to Canal St., but there are many issues to mull over within those boundaries. One issue uniting all players involved was the Department of Sanitation’s proposal to create a 400,000-square-foot sanitation garage at the current UPS-owned open parking lot between Spring and Charlton Sts. and Washington and West Sts. to house three sanitation districts’ worth of garbage trucks. For once, developers and longtime residents were up in arms at the same time on the same side over the same issue.

“We feel this area has been changing very positively,” said Abe Shnay, developer of the Urban Glass House at 330 Spring St. “What the city is proposing across the street [the sanitation garage] will have a huge impact on its appeal. There’s no question that this area needs rezoning with an eye on residential/commercial.”

The city has rezoned the southern part of Hudson Square to C6-2A, which permits residential and commercial uses, opening up developments like Urban Glass House to incorporate luxury living spaces with various office and retail spaces. Still, the huge UPS lot, as well as the FedEx building a few blocks north at Leroy St., and other structures, like the enormous St. John’s Center along Route 9A, are zoned as manufacturing areas.

“I think what would be helpful is trying to rezone the UPS building for residential, to continue progress,” Shnay said. “The more people that come in, the more you improve the neighborhood.”

Peter Moore, who has been developing in the Hudson Square area for 15 years and who spearheaded the charrette, echoed the criticism of the neighborhood’s zoning.

“The city has missed so many opportunities to take advantage of this incredible real estate environment,” he said. “Around here, there’s 2 maybe 3 million square feet of developable space. The B.S.A. [Board of Standards and Appeals] did a huge discredit to the neighborhood with its random zoning assignments. Landmarks, which could play a much more positive role, is dumbly silent.”

According to developers, the area around their luxury buildings is currently at somewhat of a stalemate.

“We have all these new, hip, creative tenants like WNYC Radio, Viacom, and Harvey Weinstein’s company, and they want creative, hip retail,” Roeder said. “The retailers we talk to say, ‘We’ll move in when there’s more residents.’ The key issue is mixed use.”

The charrette fostered discussions over a plethora of issues facing the development of Hudson Square.

Richard Barrett, a founder of the Canal West Coalition, which successfully fought to restore Canal Park on the traffic island at Canal and West Sts., laid out what the organization of neighborhood groups is requesting.

“We’re here because we want comprehensive rezoning,” he said. “There are some key issues to look at in our neighborhood that City Planning has failed to do their job on: We are a distinct neighborhood and should be zoned with an eye to specific streets and areas. Also, we have an enormous traffic problem. Canal and Varick have shown some of the worst levels of asthma in the city. The city has a responsibility to address the traffic and pollution issue. And finally, we have the lowest ratio of parks and open space. We had to sue the city just to get Canal Park returned.”

Tobi Bergman, president of the Pier Park and Playground organization and a Community Board 2 member, pointed out the value of fighting to keep park space in the neighborhood.

“Friends of Hudson River Park has done a study on the impact of the park on property values of the adjacent neighborhoods,” he said. “They’ve increased at a rate that far outstrips any other area in Manhattan.”

But Katie Bordonaro, co-chairperson of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, said, “I’m concerned about the issue of affordability; that’s the other side of the increasing property value. I raised my kids here and so did these people.” Pointing to the panel of neighbors around her, Boidonaro added, “We moved here because of the old sense of community.”

Other neighborhood activists brought different issues to the table.

“We have some issues that we have simply assumed that we have to live with,” said Ann Arlen, former chairperson of C.B. 2’s Environment Committee. “We are living in a mecca of diesel power fumes. Now we are supposed to have diesel garbage truck fumes come in. We have the opportunity here to question this. We have a mayor who calls himself ‘the environmental mayor.’ ”

The charrette included a tour of the neighborhood with David Reck, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Zoning Committee, leading the way and pointing out newly bought properties awaiting development, as well as examples of park space. At one point in the tour, Reck pointed to what is, for the time being, at least, the UPS building, on the east side of Washington St. between Spring and Houston Sts.

“There’s 80,000 square feet of office space on top of the UPS lot that hasn’t been used in 20 years,” he said of the building.

The event was not just an exercise in discussion, however. There was a specific, much-coveted audience: three top landscape architectural firms, each of which will be commissioned to come up with their own plan to define and propel Hudson Square into the future.

“The companies are LTL Architecture, SPaN and Arquitectonica Geo,” explained Michael Kramer, project manager of the charrette, who is also a member of the Friends of Hudson Square Sanitation Steering Committee. “The purpose of the charrette is to give the companies background and perspective on the character of the neighborhood and what we need. Each will have 60 days to come up with a plan for the neighborhood.”

And so, over seven hours, representatives from all three companies were barraged with various opinions on the important future of Pier 40 at W. Houston St., the need for increased residential and commercial appeal and, of course, the potential disaster in the Department of Sanitation’s proposed garage.

“What has been proposed, under threat of condemnation, to UPS, is a plan where they would hold their trucks in the ground floor and above would be the sanitation garage,” Kramer explained to the architects. “Sanitation would put up a 136-foot-high structure the community has opposed. The impact of the trucks will bring the overall quality of life down, there will be vermin, odor, the issue of fuel storing, and we are not comfortable with the way UPS has handled their business. UPS wants to maximize their air rights there, but they don’t necessarily want to give them for sanitation. They’ve been approached by a number of developers and there’s been discussion of offices or residential space above the UPS [parking lot] site. There may even be a possibility for a 60,000-square-foot green, public space on top.”

The architects are not being asked to find solutions for where to put the entirety of the Department of Sanitation’s proposal. Instead, Friends of Hudson Square acknowledges the neighborhood’s obligation to provide a salt pile location and a garage for only one district’s worth of garbage trucks, and the architectural firms’ landscape drawings should reflect ways to incorporate those realities into the fabric of the neighborhood.

“Nobody is looking at Sanitation’s figures comprehensively,” Barrett said adamantly. “What they’re using as an argument is specious. We are not getting the best municipal dollars to fund the park if you look at what Sanitation is spending on these facilities.”

Added Kramer, “Friends of Hudson Square has submitted a list of 13 alternate sites to [Council Speaker] Christine Quinn, Borough President [Scott] Stringer and all other related parties. The viability of these alternative sites needs to be examined closely.”

The day’s conclusion leads into a two-month period slated for unlimited optimism and creativity on the part of the architectural firms, during which they can carve out a look for a neighborhood that takes into account business, residential and recreational concerns. Kramer emphasized that they are not to be overly concerned with the practical or the critical; all of that will come later.

The charrette, while a platform for neighbors and developers to vehemently express their concerns, was specifically structured as a hopeful event. It is a $100,000 project, funded by several community organizations, but primarily from Peter Moore Associates and Eugene Grant, owner of the St. John’s Center. Now, all are waiting for October, when the plans will be completed and exhibited to the community to try to find the best way to envision Hudson Square.

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