Volume 16 • Issue 44 | April 2 - 8, 2004

Tribeca tower draws united opposition for divided reasons

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
3-dimensional model of Resnick’s proposed 360’ tower on West St. beyond P.S. 234.
Community members vvented their long-standing objections to the 35-story residential tower planned for Chambers St. at a public hearing where they faced off with the developer and city officials.

More than 300 people packed the P.S./I.S. 89 auditorium on March 30 for the hearing, required under the city’s formal review of the development. The city owns the lot known as 5C, bounded by Chambers, Warren and West Sts., and it plans to sell the land to developer Scott Resnick for the construction of a tower that neighbors fear will bring undue shadows and congestion to their community.

Community Board 1 has lobbied for a 100-foot reduction in the building’s size and the expansion of the planned community center from 18,000 square feet to 40,000. Tuesday’s hearing highlighted the split between those who favor lowering the building at all costs and those who believe that an expanded community center should take precedence in negotiations with the developer and the city.

“My point is that the land is presently owned by the citizens of this city, and we need to give back something to the local community as well as to the citizens of New York City,” said Bob Townley, director of the youth services provider Manhattan Youth and a big proponent of the expanded community center.

Manhattan Youth workers passed out white painter’s hats to people entering the hearing, and the caps contributed to the pep rally atmosphere in the auditorium. The audience cheered community speakers and heckled the developer and his associates.

Some believed the focus on the community center made people lose sight of the building’s considerable height. Before Sept. 11, 2001, the 5C proposal called for a 135-foot building, but the urban renewal plan that limited its height expired in 2002, clearing the way for a taller development. The original plans included an 18,000-square-foot community center within the 135-foot building.

Susan Sonz, the 20-year manager of Washington Market Park, protested what planners called the “significant” shadows that would engulf the park after construction of the 5C project. From May through August, much of the popular Tribeca park would be in shadow from 2:45 p.m. to 6:18 p.m., according to the environmental impact study prepared by the developer’s contractors.

“We cannot trade this quality of life for a community center,” Sonz said.

Others agreed.

“While it’s very tempting to say we need a community center, so let’s agree to this, it’s really not about that,” said Bernard D’Orazio, a member of Community Board 1 and president of Save our Space, a community group against large-scale development. “Let’s be patient. Let’s oppose this. This is the wrong project at the wrong time. Let’s stand united.”

D’Orazio said that after 9/11, the city dropped the cost of the 5C lot by 30 percent. Resnick declined to comment on the price of the land; a spokesperson for the city Economic Development Corporation said she could not comment because the city was still in negotiations with the developer.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes the site, said after the meeting that it was not likely the community would have to choose between a smaller building and a larger community center. As part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the City Council and the Department of City Planning will vote on the proposed 5C project, while Community Board 1 and the Manhattan Borough President each make advisory recommendations. If the City Council rejects the plan, the proposal goes back to City Planning, Gerson said.

Unless the developer reduces the size of the building and increases the community space, “I’m absolutely confident that proposal isn’t going anywhere,” Gerson said.

Still, in his remarks at the hearing Gerson stressed the importance of a united front.

“The worst thing that can happen is for this community to divide into two camps,” Gerson said.

Resnick declined to say whether he would make specific alterations to his plan as a result of the public hearing.

City officials also did not promise any changes.

“We do our best to work with the community, the developer and all stakeholders to come up with a plan that’s acceptable,” said Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the Economic Development Corporation.

One alternative to expanding the community space in site 5C, Gerson and others have said, is to put a larger recreation center on site 5B across the street. The city-owned 5B lot, bounded by Warren and Murray Sts. on the north and south and Greenwich and West Sts. on the east and west, is more than double the size of 5C.

City officials have said that the 5B development would likely include a residential tower taller than 5C, and community members have expressed concern about the combined impact of the two buildings. Edward Minskoff, the developer of 5B, declined to comment on whether he would consider including a community center on the site.

“The overall conceptual plan has not been formulated,” Minskoff said in a telephone interview.

George Olsen, a member of C.B. 1., also favors putting a larger community center on 5B. He said he is not optimistic that Resnick will alter his plans for 5C, since the developer did not respond to suggestions in the months leading up to the public hearing.

The day after the hearing, Olsen said, “We’ve asked and we’ve asked and we’ve asked… and what did they present last night?”



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