Downtown Express photo by Laurie Mittelman
Peter Moore Associates will convert this 12-story former printing building on Greenwich St. into residential units now that the City Council has rezoned the site.
Builder gives a lot, but some neighbors still sore
By Lincoln Anderson
Though just a fraction of the size of the 111-block rezoning of the East Village and Lower East Side, approval of which is expected this November, the recent rezoning of two half-blocks in the southwest Village raised nearly as much concern and angst. In the end, though, it resulted in a pledge to create something not seen in the West Village in years: new affordable housing.
Peter Moore, a prominent local developer, had sought a residential rezoning to convert a 12-story former printing building at 627 Greenwich St., as well as build additional housing on an adjacent parking lot. Council Speaker Christine Quinn who represents the district had previously rejected Moore’s application. But in last-minute, down-to-the-wire negotiations, Moore, Quinn and the community represented at the end largely by Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman hashed out several major concessions that Moore has promised to make. Hot on the heels of this agreement, two weeks ago, the City Council passed the rezoning for 627 Greenwich St. and two other nearby properties. A restrictive declaration is being drafted, which Moore is to sign, assuring he upholds his agreement. The rezoning went into effect immediately after the City Council’s vote.
The rezoning area includes parts of two blocks which taken together equal only about one block bounded by Morton St. on the north, Leroy St. on the south, Hudson St. on the east and Washington St. on the west.
In 2003, a much larger area was proposed for a residential rezoning, in what was then termed the “Hudson Square North Rezoning.” But the original proposal was defeated, mainly due to West Village Houses tenants’ fears it would block their efforts to buy their homes as the Mitchell-Lama buildings’ owners were threatening to sell off the complex to the highest bidder.
Moore’s project totals 150,000 square feet. As a result of the negotiations, he has agreed to develop 20 percent of the units as permanently affordable housing, plus create 30,000 square feet of commercial space and a 2,500-square-foot “pocket park,” accessible to the public. According to Grey Elam, Quinn’s legislative aide, food-related retail and nightclubs will be prohibited uses for the commercial area, though a restaurant could be allowed in part of it, but only with C.B. 2 approval. In addition, design of the project’s open park space will be done with community consultation.
In addition, because of the neighborhood’s problem with flooding and sewer backups, Moore’s project will include rainwater-absorbing features, such as a green roof, a high number of sidewalk trees, with sidewalks angled to drain water into the tree pits, and sidewalks with super-absorbent concrete.
Elam said that, under the agreement, Moore also will commit to support a new school at 75 Morton St., a state-owned office building that is being sold. The community wants the building converted into a middle school to ease local school overcrowding.
The 627 Greenwich St. project, as Moore had described it to Downtown Express a few days before the agreement was reached, was to be 55 residential units, with five new, contextually designed townhouses and a new, contextually designed, six-story loft-style building. Moore had at that point told Downtown Express that, as a compromise, he planned to include “perhaps as much as 20,000 square feet” of commercial space in the project.
Neighbors had felt strongly that the area’s mixed-use character a blend of residential and commercial should be preserved. Opinions vary on whether the final deal achieves that goal, with some neighbors saying still more could have been done.
Yet, Moore who paid $36 million for the property on Greenwich between Morton and Leroy Sts. had said that if his bid to build a residential project was denied, he would instead build a “200-room” hotel there. Although the existing zoning would have allowed a hotel, that was yet another option that the community opposed.
However, Moore said interest in the area from hotel developers is high, particularly from “European-based hoteliers.”
Moore himself is currently developing a 200-room hotel at Leroy St. and the West Side Highway. He noted that there are also rumors that “a well-known hotel guy,” whose name he said he couldn’t mention, is about to sign a contract to develop a hotel at the LaFrieda Meats site at Leroy and Washington Sts. The LaFrieda site was also included in the rezoning area, though; so it could now be developed with a residential building, which is considered the “highest use” as in the use with the highest profit margin for the developer.
Quinn and Hoylman were enthusiastic about the resolution of the 627 Greenwich St. issue.
“This agreement sets an important benchmark for future development in Manhattan’s Community Board 2, and raises the bar for negotiations of projects in the surrounding area and rest of the district,” Quinn said in a statement issued two days after the Council’s vote. “We are particularly proud to have affordable housing included as a component of the project. Additionally, great steps were taken to preserve the unique balance of the neighborhood so that as new development arises, the character that makes Hudson Square North so remarkable is not lost.”
Quinn has also agreed to convene a meeting with the Department of City Planning, C.B. 2, local elected officials and representatives of community organizations concerning the manufacturing-zoned area to the south, which includes the new 42-story Trump Soho condo-hotel at Spring and Varick Sts.
Said Hoylman, “Community Board 2 strongly supports new affordable housing and creation of new open space, unfortunately which are in short supply in our neighborhoods. This project at 627 Greenwich St. manages to address both issues… . A large 500-plus-room hotel could have been built on this site as of right, which would have negatively impacted the character of this neighborhood. Instead, we will have the first new affordable housing project in the Greenwich Village area in more than a decade.”
Community activists had asked Moore to make the project completely commercial, catering to the area’s growing film industry; but Moore said to do that would mean he would be losing money. The southwest Village/Hudson Square north area is a “secondary commercial market,” not fetching top commercial rents, he said.
“I can’t do commercial here it’s over,” he said in a telephone interview.
Building new office space wouldn’t make sense financially, either, he said.
“I had to follow their lead here,” Moore said, speaking last week after the full City Council had approved the rezoning. “I certainly wanted and needed the zoning to change. I’m relieved this process is behind us and we can move forward with this project. We had a productive and successful dialog with the community.”
Wanted more from Moore
Zack Winestine, co-chairperson of the West Village Community Task Force, felt the community should have been brought in earlier on the negotiations on Moore’s project, and that the final agreement should have included 10,000 more square feet of commercial space.
“What we’re looking at now is much better than what we were looking at six months ago,” Winestine said. Yet, at another point, he blasted Moore’s concessions of affordable housing and commercial space as “token amounts,” then modified that to “smaller amounts.”
“This rezoning should have never come back,” he added. “It’s kind of crazy that the community had to fight the same proposal three years later. The final result is zoning that encompasses two half-blocks which seems to be spot zoning.”
“We don’t want residential and we don’t want hotels,” he said. “There’s a huge demand for office space in this area. There’s been a whole, burgeoning film industry in this neighborhood; there’s a desperate need for studio space.”
Asked if he really would have preferred a hotel to what the community will be getting at 627 Greenwich St., Winestine said yes.
Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, echoed Winestine’s criticisms.
“I’m disappointed that it got to the point that it did,” Berman said. “The community has been clamoring for a rezoning of the manufacturing-zoned district to the south where the Trump hotel is. This is a developer-driven rezoning that moved extremely quickly.”
Also included in the rezoning is 622 Greenwich St., which was converted to residential co-ops years ago. Some speculated this building was thrown into the rezoning to avoid the appearance of so-called spot zoning.
“It all has to do with spot zoning,” said Ellen Petersen-Lewis, a 622 Greenwich St. resident. “My honest feeling is our building was put in there because they could not add just the LaFrieda site. I think it was cherry-picking on the part of City Planning.”
But Kate Seely-Kirk, Quinn’s district office chief of staff, said the City Planning Department likes to rezone areas in neat, boxlike shapes and that’s why this building was added. As for why an already-residentially converted building needed to be residentially rezoned, Elam noted that, without the rezoning, if 622 Greenwich St. were ever knocked down, the property would revert to manufacturing zoning.
“Most of us moved into this neighborhood because it was a mixed-use neighborhood,” Peterson-Lewis said, explaining why many locals oppose an influx of more residents. “It wasn’t the Upper West Side, it wasn’t the Upper East Side. A mixed-use neighborhood is low density.”
Albert Bennett, the Morton St. Block Association’s community liaison, said, “To us, the most important thing was that that they not follow through on their threat of a hotel. It would have been a major change in our lifestyle here. At one point, Kate Seely-Kirk said, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘I want 627 Greenwich St. to remain commercial, mainly for film uses, and that the parking lot remain a parking lot.’” He admitted his request was probably “pie in the sky.”
Asked what’s so terrible about 627 Greenwich St. going residential, Bennett said, “It would make such major changes. Having all those new families would put a strain on the infrastructure. … The commercial people go home and they’re not there on weekends.”
More residential use, Bennett said, means “more baby strollers, more dogs…taxis, limos.”
‘We made the decision’
Seely-Kirk, from Quinn’s office, said the City Council speaker felt the deal was the best that could be achieved.
“Unfortunately, you often don’t get affordable space and 30,000 square feet of commercial space, if you don’t go down to the last minute,” she said. “The day before the vote, we were in negotiations from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. It was clear that the community was not in agreement with it, but we made the decision.”
Elam said there had been “six to eight meetings within the last two to three months” between Moore, local elected officials and community members.
For his part, Moore said it’s time to look at rezoning yet another area: not around the Trump Soho hotel as Berman and others would have it but the U.P.S. parking lot at Spring and West Sts., where the city is planning a three-district Department of Sanitation garage. Moore commissioned a charrette project last year that invited architects to look at ways of redeveloping that site, along with the neighboring St. John’s Center building. Moore has his eyes on these properties himself.
“I think the pressing thing is now for the community to refocus its energies on the issue of the proposed Sanitation Department facility,” Moore said. “We as the community need to convince the city there are better alternatives for that site and that there is a way to accommodate Sanitation, residential and community facilities there.” Some hotel use would be a part of the mix, too, he said.
“The big vision is to restore the street grid, make it mixed use, make a very meaningful community facility [for the] elderly, maybe schools have green space and include Sanitation in some way,” Moore said. “And also, since Pier 40 seems to have some traction, there needs to be more dialog about the synergies between Pier 40 and the U.P.S. site.”
Phil Mouquinho, a former C.B. 2 member who owns a restaurant at Charlton St.’s west end, was not a fan of the southwest Village rezoning, feeling, as Moore ultimately does, that more is needed.
“I think that a comprehensive rezoning would have been much better than site-by-site zoning,” Mouquinho said. “I don’t think this is in the best interest of the city.”