By Julie Shapiro
Fifteen years ago, northern Tribeca was home to a cardboard warehouse, two pie companies, a host of fabric producers, a car repair shop and a carpentry store.
Longtime resident Carole De Saram came up with the store inventory as she took a mental walk through North Tribeca, circa 1993. De Saram, also chairperson of the Community Board 1 Tribeca Committee and leader of the Tribeca Community Association, has watched the neighborhood’s gradual change for years and is now leading the effort to make the neighborhood’s zoning match its new identity.
As the neighborhood turned increasingly residential, many of the manufacturing businesses fled from Lower Manhattan. A few manufacturers remain including craftsmen who make musical instruments and furniture but the tide has largely turned toward condos, shops and restaurants.
“We don’t want to become the Meat Market, with the chaos that’s down there, with the nightlife,” De Saram said. “Tribeca is a family neighborhood.” When parents put their children to sleep, “they don’t want to have screaming people in the street.”
Board 1’s plan for North Tribeca would create a mixed-use district, permitting the older manufacturing businesses to stay but also easing the path for new residential developments. A resolution passed by Board 1 Tuesday night sets out the uses De Saram and other board members want to see, along with those they don’t.
For instance, dry-cleaning, gun repairs and taxidermy would be out, along with dance clubs, slaughterhouses and soap manufacturers. The resolution tightly restricts banks and cell phone stores, permitting only one every 200 feet and limiting their ground-floor space to 2,500 square feet. Variety stores are restricted to 5,000 square feet, with only one allowed every 200 feet.
C.B. 1 will submit the plan to the Department of City Planning, which has the final say on rezoning.
“They said, ‘You guys tell us what you want and then we’ll work together,’” said Michael Levine, director of land use and planning for C.B. 1.
City Planning will review the board’s recommendations and conduct an environmental review, Levine said, which could take time. Jennifer Torres, a City Planning spokesperson, said the city expects to incorporate affordable housing into the rezoning plan and that agency looks forward to working with the community on the proposal.
The C.B. 1 resolution differentiates between wide north-south streets, where larger shops are allowed, and narrow east-west streets. Residents are especially concerned that the small side streets stay quiet and don’t grow saturated by clubs, De Saram said.
As De Saram introduced the resolution at Tuesday’s C.B. 1 meeting, she said the plan represented a compromise. “Not everybody gets what they want, but it represents the community as a whole.”
The proposed changes are roughly within the area bounded by Canal, West and N. Moore Sts. and east to W. Broadway and to Broadway north of Walker St.
When it came to Washington St., the board had a dilemma: Should the five-block area of the north-south street be considered wide or narrow? Zoning Washington St. like the other north-south streets could create a gridlock, De Saram said, but it isn’t exactly a narrow side street either. The board compromised and designated the street “medium-width.” With a ground-floor limit of 5,000 square feet per business, Washington St. falls between wide streets, which have a 10,000-square-foot limit, and narrow streets, which have a 2,500-square-foot limit.
But Barbara Seigel, a Washington St. resident since 1979, said 5,000 square feet was too big.
“[Washington St.] is absolutely nothing like those north-south streets,” Seigel told the board Tuesday. “We’ve always had serious issues with congestion on this street.”
Albert Capsouto, a board member and owner of restaurant Capsouto Frères on Washington St., disagreed with Seigel.
Under the 2,500-square-foot limit, “establishments like myself cannot come and do business,” said Capsouto, whose restaurant is around 5,000 square feet. “The last thing we want to do in Tribeca North is hamper the retail, the variety of retail.”
Andy Neale, another board member, cited the Department of City Planning’s guidelines, which classify as narrow any street less than 75 feet wide. Washington St. is 60 feet wide.
Still, the board voted to keep the 5,000-square-foot limit for Washington St. and then passed the resolution 20 to seven, with two abstentions.
De Saram seemed perturbed by the votes against the rezoning plan, saying the community had worked on it for two years with the help of elected and city officials. She said she respects the opinion of other committees on matters to which they have devoted a lot of time.
Several board members began speaking at once, shouting over each other, until chairperson Julie Menin quieted the crowd, reminding everyone that the resolution had already passed.
Before the meeting, Levine, who used to work at City Planning, said the limit on store size on narrow streets could hit a roadblock. City Planning also might think that the limits on cell phone stores and banks are too restrictive. The specifics are open for negotiation, Levine said, but he believes Board 1’s plan is the best way to “maintain the quality of the Tribeca area.”
C.B. 1 passed another Tribeca North resolution last fall, dealing with the other half of the rezoning procedure: height caps and F.A.R., the floor-to-area ratio, which determines the bulk of buildings. The board wants to see height limits between 110 and 140 feet and F.A.R.’s between 5 and 6.5. If developers include affordable housing, they can bump the F.A.R. up to 7.2 in some parts of North Tribeca.
The rezoning of North Tribeca echoes the rezoning of the rest of Tribeca in 1995. Back then, North Tribeca was changing, but South Tribeca was changing faster. City Planning put tight limits on manufacturing in South Tribeca, making way for the burgeoning residential population.
“What we’ve done a decade later is say we want to apply same thing in the north but be a little bit more liberal about certain things,” Levine said.
The board decided to keep restrictions on manufacturing a little looser in North Tribeca, so as not to drive out the industries that still call the neighborhood home. The new rules would permit torches used by craftsmen, for example, and would allow custom printers and small furniture production businesses to stay.