Volume 17, Number 45 | April 1 — 7, 2005

C.B. 1 should say no unless Minskoff offers more for Tribeca tower

Sometime within the next two months, developer Edward Minskoff and his consultants will formally present Community Board 1 with their plans to build 440 apartments and condos on the Warren St. parking lot site across from P.S. 234 — also called Site 5B in the now expired urban renewal zone.

Minskoff is looking to add about 50,000 square feet of bulk to the Tribeca project, making it 684,000 square feet. The tallest building at West and Warren Sts. would go up by 12 feet to 382 feet and the adjacent building on Warren St. would increase from 70 to 135 feet under the requested expansion. But C.B. 1 will have the chance to stop the expansion idea once and for all when its members see the plans soon. The board was granted the rare veto power under a September agreement between Councilmember Alan Gerson and Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff.

If Board 1 approves the change – and early indications are they will – Minskoff would be required to contribute one third of his added purchase costs, roughly $1 million to $2 million, to a proposed youth recreation center across the street from P.S. 234.

The one or $2 million should be the ante. If Minskoff wants to play this bigger development hand, then he should have to put more on the table. For starters, Minskoff wants to use excessively noisy pile drivers in his construction. On the rec center site across the street, Site 5C, developer Scott Resnick has agreed to use variable frequency hammers which are less jarring and noisy. Minskoff’s project, unlike Resnick’s, faces more P.S. 234 windows, and Minskoff should be doing more to mitigate noise, not less.

Parents have suggested installing better school windows to cut down on the noise, which sounds like a reasonable request. Other schools including St. John’s, P.S/I.S. 89, Stuyvesant High School, Borough of Manhattan Community College and P.S. 150 are all nearby and may also need assistance.

Minskoff is expected to take over at least some of the maintenance costs for Washington Market Park, but details have not been finalized. The Minskoff buildings are among the planned skyscrapers that will increase the shadows in the park, and the developer could also contribute capital money for future park improvements.

Although we want the residential growth of Lower Manhattan to continue, there is a danger of speeding residential development before there is enough school space for families. Plans for a P.S. 234 annex and a new K-8 school will benefit Minskoff and are a higher priority.

Minskoff and Resnick are not to blame because city administrations dawdled for decades and let the Washington Market urban renewal zone height restrictions expire, but it is worth pointing out that both developers are building higher than they agreed to several years ago. The city originally took these properties over on the theory that they would improve Lower Manhattan, but instead officials kept the lots vacant. Disrupting schools and overwhelming residents doesn’t sound much like urban renewal.

Ben McGrath, Minskoff’s C.F.O., told us in January – maybe in jest – that Minskoff perhaps would be willing to give the Downtown community as much as $10 million to build bigger. Minskoff quickly backed away from that number and the figure is now under $2 million. The dollars and concessions need to move a long way in the other direction before C.B. 1 should consider allowing this expansion to proceed. Until then board members should just say no.

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