Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
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Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
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Oct 18, 2019

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Andrew Berman, Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
917-533-1767 • 212-475-9585 x38 • andrew@gvshp.org

City Council to Approve Tech Hub 
Without the Neighborhood Protections

Councilmember Carlina Rivera Promised
As a Condition for Her Support
 

Upzoning for Project Will Greatly Increase Pressure for

Oversized and Out-of-Character Commercial Development

 in Neighboring Greenwich Village and East Village;
 Rivera Pledged During Campaign and While In Office
 Not To Approve Hub Without Full Neighborhood Protections


Manhattan – Today the City Council will vote to approve the Mayor’s proposed upzoning of a site at 120 East 14th Street (4th Avenue) to accommodate a planned 21-story “Tech Hub,” without the neighborhood protections the community had fought for, and which Councilmember Rivera pledged when she ran for City Council last year that she would condition her vote upon (candidate Carlina Rivera said when running for office in 2017: “without the needed zoning protections for the neighborhood, [the Tech Hub] would lead to acceleration in out of scale development for the surrounding residential neighborhood.”)

 
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and multiple affordable housing, small business, and local community groups called for the protections for the surrounding neighborhoods as a component of the plan. Such zoning or landmark protections are necessary to ensure that out-of-character and out-of-scale commercial development are not further catalyzed in the surrounding communities by the Tech Hub, as has already been occurring since the announcement of the proposal, including several 300 ft. tall office and condo developments, and 300 room hotels.

The deal announced by Councilmember Rivera to be approved by the City Council includes the following very modest “neighborhood protections,” which are significantly less than what the community sought and Councilmember Rivera promised would be required to get her vote:

  • A requirement of a ‘special permit’ for new hotels in the area, which does not mean new hotels can’t be built, but that they require additional approvals (also, this only applies to about half of the affected area; in the other half, existing zoning does not allow hotels or disincentivizes them so strongly there is little chance of their being built).
  • A commitment to consider a small number of sites for landmarking, none of which are active development sites or likely ever would be.
  • An HPD tenant “anti-harassment” program, which has no effect on new development and is generally viewed skeptically by most tenant advocates as having any impact

By contrast, community groups had called for zoning protections for the area which would have reinforced the neighborhood’s predominantly residential and low-to-mid-rise character, while adding or strengthening affordable housing incentives or making them requirements—conditions which Councilmember Rivera pledged to make her support for the Tech Hub contingent upon.  These included:

  • Reducing the allowable size of commercial developments (hotels and office buildings) in the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors, while leaving the allowable size of residential development unchanged; this would bring the zoning into conformance with 90% of the lots in the area, according to the city’s own data
  • By reducing the allowable size of commercial developments in the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors, eliminate the loophole through which developers currently get around the existing affordable housing zoning incentives for the area, which only apply to residential developments, not commercial ones (GVSHP had also requested that the City consider making the existing affordable housing incentives mandatory, but the City refused)
  • For the University Place and Broadway corridors, leave the allowable size of new developments essentially untouched, but:
  • Put in place height restrictions for new development that are comparable to the larger existing buildings in the neighborhood – up to 145 feet tall (currently there are no height limits, and slender towers or developments which amass air rights can go 300-400 feet in height or greater)
  • Add affordable housing incentives or requirements to allow slightly larger buildings that include affordable housing
  • As an alternative, GVSHP proposed extensive landmark protections for much of the area in question, which contains a rich array of historically significant 19th and early 20th century architecture

The deal announced today would therefore not address any of the following:

  • Would have virtually no effect upon development in the University Place and Broadway corridors, where 300 ft. tall condo and office towers are currently underway, being built, or planned
  • Would not affect out-of-character office building development in the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors
  • Would not necessarily prevent hotel development in the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors, only subject it to an additional level of review

For information on the nearly $300,000 the developers of the Tech Hub spent on lobbying city officials, click here.  For information on the tens of thousands of dollars the developers of the Tech Hub and their lobbyists made in campaign contributions to the Mayor, click here.

Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said: "The City Council's deal approves the Mayor’s Tech Hub with just a fraction of a fraction of the protections the surrounding neighborhood needs and called for, and which Councilmember Rivera promised to condition her vote upon. The approval of the Tech Hub will accelerate the transformation of the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods into an extension of ‘Midtown South’ and ‘Silicon Alley,’ which many developers and real estate interests have already begun to call them.  We are seeing 300 ft. tall office and condo towers going up in this area and 300 room hotels being built, which are completely out of character for these neighborhoods, with many more to come.  It’s a shame that the Mayor is so invested in protecting his real estate donor friends that he would not consider real but reasonable zoning protections for the area that would have prevented this kind of unnecessary development, and encouraged residential development that includes affordable housing.  It’s also a shame that our local Councilmember caved to the Mayor and broke a promise she publicly made to ensure that these real protections were part of any final deal. They’re not, and the deal approved today will do very little to protect this neighborhood.  It will do a lot to accelerate the kind of development which will fundamentally change the character of our neighborhood, and accelerate the exodus of current residents and small businesses.  But of course, as always, the Mayor’s campaign donors got a very good deal out of this."


"Without the neighborhood protections residents, small business owners, and housing advocates called for, the Tech Hub will bring more of the wrong kind of development to our neighborhoods.  Small businesses will be squeezed, community character will change, and more and more the East Village and Greenwich Village will just feel like ‘Midtown South.’  It’s disappointing that the Council gave in to the Mayor and approved this without the real protections we fought for.  This could have been a win for everybody; instead, these great neighborhoods will become an extension of ‘Silicon Alley,’ with boutique tech office buildings and oversized high-rise condos where they don’t need to be and don’t belong,” said neighborhood small business owner Tom Birchard of Veselka, a local Ukrainian eatery since 1954.

"As a longtime community resident, I am deeply disappointed by Councilmember Carlina Rivera's vote for the Union Square Tech Hub without neighborhood protections.  I voted for Councilmember  Rivera because she promised to continue the legacy of her mentor.  That legacy included protection and expansion of truly affordable housing as well as protection of our architectural community heritage. By voting yes without real protections, Councilmember Rivera betrayed her community," said Kathy Wakeman of the Met Council on Housing, a citywide affordable housing and tenants advocacy group.

"We are very disappointed that the City's vision for the future of this area does not seem to include protecting the historic neighborhood which actually exists there," said Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, a citywide preservation advocacy group.

“Our beautiful historic neighborhoods, where residents and small businesses have lived and thrived for generations, are being bulldozed, and people are being forced out.  Meanwhile the city either does nothing, or actively participates.  We need our city government to start responding to the needs of our community,” said Richard Moses, President of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative.

“The escalating displacement of residents and small businesses, and the destruction of historic buildings and cultural diversity in this community was already a crisis before the Tech Hub was announced.   Asking that its approval be tied to zoning restrictions and neighborhood protections was a modest request.   Without those protections, we can expect more displacements, more chain stores, and more structures like the “Death Star” at 51 Astor Place, a monstrously out of scale building that sucks the light, air and character out of its surroundings,” said David Mulkins of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.

“Unfortunately the 14th Street Tech Hub was approved without the rezoning needed to protect this residential community, which is already suffering from aggressive, out-of-character commercial development. Furthermore, the opportunity to incentivize mandatory inclusionary housing was missed. As we have observed in cities from San Francisco to Seattle to Cambridge, courting tech development radically changes the character of communities, displacing longtime residents and businesses in order to serve a new population that doesn't interact with the local community. It is difficult to believe that New York City would not learn from these lessons to plan holistically and include protections for the surrounding neighborhoods,"  said Laura Sewell, Director of the East Village Community Coalition.

See GVSHP testimony at the City Council urging that the Tech Hub be voted down unless neighborhood protections are included here.

See more information here.

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