Volume 20 Issue 20 | Sept. 28 - Oct. 04, 2007


Handcuffs restrict, but declaration won’t

A demonstration outside the construction site of the Trump Soho Hotel Condominium last week saw tensions run high. An ever-cocky Donald Trump was leading a press conference prior to a “launch party” that night for the glitzy mega-project. Across the street, dozens of protesters berated the developer, the condo-hotel and the Bloomberg administration for allowing the project to go forward.

Much is at stake with this embattled building.

A 42-story luxury project, it would be the tallest structure between Midtown and the Financial District. It has the potential to significantly and permanently alter the nature of surrounding communities like Soho and Hudson Square.

Clearly, there’s a tremendous amount of money riding on Trump Soho. The protesters — led by the Soho Alliance and Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation — felt a chill when they saw that police at the protest had flexible plastic handcuffs looped on their pant legs. Clearly police were ready to make sure Trump’s speech was not disrupted by pesky neighbors.

The developers are clearly racing to put up the tower, now at 15 stories, before a rezoning of the neighborhood takes place — a rezoning which would permit residential use, but surely substantially lower the allowable height and bulk. By racing to put the tower up now, Trump and partners get the benefit of residential use for all intents and purposes, plus extra height.

Also making this project so critical is the fact that the Department of Buildings is setting a precedent for how condo-hotels will be developed in the city’s manufacturing zones from now on.

Responding to fears that Trump Soho would primarily be used residentially, D.O.B. got the developer to sign a restrictive declaration under which owners or their guests can’t inhabit a unit more than 120 days a year or longer than 29 days at a time. Failure to follow these terms could result in D.O.B. fines and audits.

Yet D.O.B. isn’t adding personnel to deal with this building, or future ones like it, and Trump’s management company will be responsible for seeing that the rules are followed. Sounds like the fox guarding the gilded henhouse to us.

Furthermore, the declaration’s critics — we feel correctly — scoff at the notion that D.O.B. would even have the wherewithal to monitor the building or do enforcement.

Examples of D.O.B. not enforcing existing rules on the books are myriad: Countless professionals live in Soho — an area supposedly preserved for artists’ housing — and faculty housing is being illegally used to qualify for the community facilities zoning allowance — and nothing is being done about it. What makes anyone think Buildings will beef up its enforcement for Trump Soho?

Rules that seem to be unenforceable will be just that — unenforceable. Unless D.O.B. addresses this zoning aberration, developers will continue to exploit the situation, and the skyline and context of neighborhoods will be forever marred by hugely inappropriate structures.

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